What to Consider When Adding Wind or Solar Power to Your Property

Learn how to assess your property’s weather conditions to determine if you’re in the right location for wind- or solar-power setups.

| September/October 2020

Adobe Stock/Thinapob

Wind and solar are two of the most accessible sources of renewable energy. Large farms of wind turbines and solar arrays can provide power for multiple sources, but there are also smaller home units available that generate power for a single property. Unless your goal is purely environmental, however, the economics of your situation will determine whether it makes sense for you to invest in a renewable energy system. Will the money you save by generating your own power cover the initial costs? This will depend on a number of factors, but perhaps most importantly on the energy source itself: wind or sunlight. Both of these are elements of the weather, and they’re impacted by other weather factors and situations. Homeowners wishing to install solar or wind systems need to know as much as possible about these weather effects before they try to utilize nature’s energy.

Harnessing the Wind

If you’re interested in wind power, first check into and follow any local zoning laws and permits for installing a wind turbine on your property. Once you’ve established legality, the best way to determine if wind power is a viable option is to have a professional conduct a wind resource assessment of your property. Such professionals are typically associated with a provider of wind power equipment. In addition, see “Wind and Solar Data” below for a number of resources where you can access basic wind information for your location. You can also check with local airports, which have extensive wind records, or any local National Weather Service office. (Keep in mind that these wind measurements are typically taken at 30 feet above the ground.) Overall, a large, open area is necessary; 1 acre is usually considered the minimum. This typically rules out urban and even many suburban sites. Rural locations with flat terrain are ideal.

Adobe Stock/altitudedrone

Wind speed and direction. To be effective, wind turbines have to reach a minimum wind speed, and winds of this speed must be reasonably consistent over time. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends an average annual wind speed of at least 9 mph for stand-alone units and 10 mph for systems connected to the grid. Much of the Great Plains is prime for wind power, as are some coastal areas. Besides wind speeds, you’ll need to ascertain the prevailing wind direction of your location for proper siting of the equipment. To illustrate prevailing winds, meteorologists develop “wind roses,” which are graphical displays of wind direction occurrence.

Wind turbine height. How high should your wind turbine be? Keep in mind that wind speed increases with height, as you move away from the frictional drag of the Earth’s surface. Standard height for a home wind turbine is 100 feet. Wind speeds are typically 15 to 25 percent faster at this height than at 30 feet. But even 100 feet is considered the minimum tower height to have an economically viable unit; an increase in height of 20 to 40 feet can produce significantly more power.

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