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digitalimpression's avatar

If you had a house with a giant windmill attached to the roof...

Asked by digitalimpression (9910points) November 24th, 2011

.. could you power your home independently of the power grid? Knowing nothing of wind power generation I was actually watching Puss n Boots. In the first few minutes of the movie there is a house such as the one I’m describing. Would the power be consistent (assuming, of course, that you live in a place where there is at least moderate amounts of wind)?

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36 Answers

filmfann's avatar

You would need to have batteries to store power for when the wind isn’t blowing, but of course it is possible.

digitalimpression's avatar

Do you suppose it would be profitable? I’ve seen some estimates that a windmill would last around 30 years, providing absolutely free energy after about 15 of those years once you had it paid off. Is this true? If so, why don’t more people use wind power?

Coloma's avatar

I’m in a little hollow at the bottom of a canyon, I do get some pretty good wind gusts rushing through the canyon here, but, in general do not have a lot of wind, aside from storms coming through.

I’d rather have a water wheel like some of the old mills in these mountains.

digitalimpression's avatar

I just wonder how practical it would be if you combined natural energy to make yourself self sufficient. A water wheel, a windmill, and a couple of solar panels and you should be good. Does anyone here use any of those methods?

Coloma's avatar

@digitalimpression

No, but, being the old hippie chick in the woods I have always wanted to experiment with alternative building designs like rice bale houses and homes built into mountainsides with earth “roofs”.

There are some really cool alternative homes built in my area, one rice bale house is so cool. :-)

Judi's avatar

If you maintain your batteries correctly they might last 10–15 years, maybe more, but with today’s technology, you WILL have to replace those batteries in 30 years. Solar is much less maintenance. No moving parts. (Although you would still have the battery issue unless you do a grid tie in.)
@digitalimpression, we have solar. Hubby is a solar contractor.

digitalimpression's avatar

@Coloma What is a rice bale house? Is the idea to use the earth as insulation mostly? You would still need power for other things yes?

@Judi What is the turnaround for solar panels to become cost effective in terms of years? The panels themselves are a bit pricey aren’t they? As far as the battery cost, wouldn’t it be negligible in terms of overall savings due to the use of this alternative energy method?

mazingerz88's avatar

Not only would it provide power but a movable windmill propeller could be used to get rid of unwanted guests at the front door. Lol.

digitalimpression's avatar

@mazingerz88 Sure, but that would be a bit harder than the sawed off shotgun I currently use. j/k

Coloma's avatar

@digitalimpression

www.massaorganics.com/house.html

Rice straw bales are energy conservative building materials for maximum energy saving and insulative properties, like Adobe and earthen homes. Yes, one still needs other power/energy sources, but, these homes are the for ultimate energy conservation.

Mariah's avatar

My understanding is that we don’t currently have a way to store excess electricity produced by wind turbines. So if the wind dies down, you lose your electricity.

http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2170

digitalimpression's avatar

@Mariah Hmm, well I never thought about the excess energy problem. I suppose I just assumed there was a way to store it. Perhaps a little more research for me I think.

Keep_on_running's avatar

Man, would that be loud and annoying. WOOsh WOOsh WOOsh…all…day…long…

digitalimpression's avatar

I would prefer it over the sound of money.. WOOsh WOOsh WOOsh… leaving my wallet.

Keep_on_running's avatar

Heh, I suppose. I just though of it because a while ago a couple wanted to sue this company that built a small wind farm a few kilometres from where they live for causing them illness, headaches, sickness, fatigue…etc. from the continuous noise. So, it would really suck if they had one on their roof!

digitalimpression's avatar

@Keep_on_running Sounds like the type of people who would sue the lottery for making them winners.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I have experience designing wind turbine systems – from home sized to 250 kW units for factories.
1) Don’t even think about it unless you live in an area with an average net wind speed of 12.4 mph. The economics are not there if you are below that.
2) Don’t waste your money on batteries trying to store the energy. Use the grid itself. Look up “Net Metering”. If your turbine produces power of a sufficient quality, you may put it back onto the grid and run your meter backwards when you are making extra. You may then withdraw it off from the grid at the same price. There is a limitation – You may not produce more than your annual usage. This prevents people from building extremely large units and acting as “producers” in residential areas.

digitalimpression's avatar

Wait, “You may not produce more than your annual usage?” That’s against the law?

LuckyGuy's avatar

@digitalimpression Yeppers. That is the concession made for ‘free” net metering.
There is another alternative. You may make more than you use but the power company will only pay about 15–20% of what they charge. With that markdown it is not worth your while.

Simplified summary: The power company will pay the full price up to the amount you use annually. If you make more than that, they get to buy it at very low rates.

Both sides win. They get compensated for you using their infrastructure and wire. You don’t need to have tons of storage batteries that will deplete our nation’s resources of lead, and lithium and possibly be an environmental hazard.

digitalimpression's avatar

@worriedguy Who is monitoring your power since it is not on the grid? Is there a requirement that you report how much you are generating?

Mariah's avatar

In @worriedguy‘s scenario, you are on the grid.

digitalimpression's avatar

But couldn’t you be off the grid?

CWOTUS's avatar

Simply paying for the machine won’t be sufficient. Machines break, wear out, require lubrication and maintenance. Even the electrical connections and wiring themselves will require frequent inspection and occasional rework and repair / replacement. If you can’t do the work yourself (and keep in mind that this is often ‘heavy’ work, at height, in a windy climate (obviously), so you need to consider your own safety equipment and procedures, too, and none of that is cheap or easy.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@digitalimpression Yes, you could be off the grid but then you cannot do the net metering trick and you will require batteries. Some people do this but they are expensive, are maintenance nightmares, take up space, need to be replaced, take resources (lead or lithium), etc. I will not mention the potential for disaster (fire, acid leak) as those issues are completely solved., right? Your fist step is to find out the average wind and sunlight in your area. Remember what I said about the 12.4 mph. If you are below that, skip it
When we do a survey, we get the annual data for the area, look at the surrounding landscape for one mile in all directions and determine the peak wind loading for the structure. You do not want the tower or building to fall over. The tower and base are then designed to building codes and ASAE standards (American Society of Architectural Engineers). Our architect then stamps the plans so you can get a building permit from your town.
Of course you are free to put a windmill on top of a 2×4 tower you make. Just don’t expect your insurance company, or your neighbors, to pay for your damage when it falls down in a wind storm.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@digitalimpression To size the batteries you need to decide two things:
1) How many days of storage do you need to cover you during periods of no wind. 6 hours? 12 hours?, 1 day?, 2 days?
2) What is your typical and peak usage? How much energy do you use in a day? 20kWhr? 30kWhr? 50kWhr?
Here is a rough number for you. If you use 30kWhr/day (average monthly electric bill ~$120 per month) and you want to live normally through a 1 day lull in the wind, you will need the equivalent of a bank of 60 Lead Acid batteries for storage. What happens if the wind is quiet for 2 days? The wind data will tell you how often happens.
This is why they invented net metering.

Mariah's avatar

To second what @CWOTUS said, wind turbines require a LOT of maintenance. Also I was thinking about this some more, and you couldn’t have one attached to your roof. They need to be anchored into the ground very solidly.

digitalimpression's avatar

@worriedguy So if you were to use an alternative energy source as your primary means of generating energy, which would you choose? You seem to have the experience required to make the decision accurately.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The answer to your question is very personal and are completel dempendent upon where and how you live.
I live in a cold clmate in Western NY. I don’t have air conditioning. We don’t get much sun, but we have lots of free wood from trees that have fallen. I heat with biomass/wood. That saves about 750–1000 gallons of heating oil per year. I get great exercise; I clean up my property; and I am keeping my money instead of giving it to Arabs (figuratively).
If you live somewhere warm that does not apply. You need electricity for the air conditioner and appliances. Do you have sun? Do you have the 12.4 mph of wind? Can you use Geothermal? That is the purpose of the site survey. You pick the option(s) that is best for your location.
No matter what you choose, good practices and a tight house with good insulation helps. Do that first and measure exactly what you need. Then investigate the options.

digitalimpression's avatar

@worriedguy Ok, well I suppose we’ve been even more productive already than I suspected by watching a kids show. =)

LuckyGuy's avatar

Don’t give up. Do your homework.

Judi's avatar

@digitalimpression , The price is coming way down for solar. The way I look at it, they cost about the same as a car. Some will spend 15–20 grand and some will spend 100 grand depending on their usage. The payback is usually 5–7 years if it’s sized right, except with a car you are ready to trade it in and get another one. Most solar PV is guaranteed for 25 and will probably last much longer. @worriedguy knows what he’s talking about. The only real way to do either soar or wind is to tie into the grid and have a net meter. The only time you might want to consider an off grid system, with dangerous and high maintenance batteries is if you were in an area so remote that you couldn’t get on the grid. There are areas in Humboldt County California like that.

CWOTUS's avatar

… and in that case there would be a lot less sense investing in batteries over having a backup generator, minimally sized for whatever critical load was absolutely critical, such as vital lifesaving equipment and power for refrigeration / freezers and a well pump.

LuckyGuy's avatar

We’d all be better off if we just used what we have more efficiently. If we live in place with an abundance of sun or wind or geothermal potential and use them too, that is a bonus. We don’t have to be 100% off the grid. A 50% reduction is a laudable goal and puts real money in our pockets.
Do you see that 20 pound piece of wood trash on the curb? That is worth $3.50 (tax free!) to me in heat. I pick it up and burn it in my stove. That is one of the ways I save energy.

Judi's avatar

@worriedguy , I know what you’re talking about. My husband has been a general contractor for years. (There is not enough work to go solar exclusively.) We live in central California, so heat isn’t as big of an issue, but I cringe every time he does a remodel and that dump trailer goes to the dumps with all that perfectly good firewood. The only thing wrong with it is that it has a few nails in it. If I’m on a job site I will grab a hammer and start pulling out the nails so he can recycle it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Judi I prefer wood without nails but I won’t reject anything. When I clean my stove out I just pass a magnet over it. Easy. It’s all BTUs .

CWOTUS's avatar

I think she was referring to the potential danger of power-cutting wood containing nails.

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