Friday, October 17, 2008

Clean Energy - The Windpower Myth?

Take control of your home’s energy needs by harnessing a free resource—the wind. How? With a residential wind generator from Skystream®. Designed for homes just like yours, the smart, modern Skystream 3.7 converts wind into electricity you can use. It lowers your electric bill by as much as 80%, protects you against volatile electricity prices, reduces your dependence on foreign oil, and produces clean energy that doesn’t affect global warming. Most importantly, it provides independence and stability for you and your family. - http://www.skystreamenergy.com/
Sounds good doesn't it? Well, let's see.


I currently saw an article in Carolina Country Vol. 40, No. 9, Sept 2008, the journal of our electric cooperative, that advertised that the Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative was posting meter data from a privately owned wind turbine.  The setup was described as:

a Skystream 3.7 residential wind turbine installed last year at a waterfront home on Harker Island. The turbine is at a height just under 50 feet and basically free of wind obstructions from the south across the water. The wind quality from all other directions, however, is lessened because of trees and buildings in the wind’s path.
(image from http://www.skystreamenergy.com/images/photos/thumbs/28-sunset_ut.jpg)

The location is not totally ideal, but probably more ideal than many others. So how much is this turbine producing? Well, so far it has produced a minimum of 121 kWh per month and a maximum of 394 kWh per month with an average of 273 kWh per month. This gives an average total of 3274 kWh for a whole year. 

To put this in perspective, we currently pay $0.12 per kWh and therefore this wind turbine would save us $393 per year. Sounds good until you realize that the cost of the turbine and installation could be on the order of $12,000 to $18,000. This means that it would take at least 30 years to pay for itself, if it were maintenance free. Unfortunately, it only has a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years.

I could not get an exact maintenance cost value for this model (many sites just said it was virtually maintenance free), but for some models, I saw maintenance costs ranging from $200 to $500 per year. So, for the sake of argument, if I bought one and it was maintenance free and it produced 400 kWh monthly (compared to the 273 kWh from the journal's test case) it could take 20 years to recupe the cost of the turbine, or 32 years if it cost me $200 per year to maintain, and 157 years if it cost $500 per year to maintain. (Remember that it only has a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years.)

I do understand that there are many government incentives out there, therefore you might recuperate your money in less time, thanks to tax payers out there, but even that does not make up for the deficient technology.

So what is my conclusion? Privately owned wind turbine: I don't think so!

2 comments:

Renata said...

I agree that if one uses cost to justify it, it won't be worth it. Nonetheless, I have read stories of the power company paying people with wind turbines because they use less electricity than they generate. Another thing that people (who have this kind of money) can consider is the price of not depending on outside energy (and the price fluctuations associated with that).
But I agree, it is pretty costly for technology that should be much more advanced and cheaper.

Brian said...

That'll preach, I've found that when you dig beneath the surface of many "green" incentives you find a "bogey" such as this. Well done on the research.

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