Making Wind Power a Breeze

Green is the new black. With awareness of global warming rising along with temperatures and the sea level, many people are looking for ways to get involved in finding …

Green is the new black.

With awareness of global warming rising along with temperatures and the sea level, many people are looking for ways to get involved in finding solutions.

Clean energy is one of the main areas of the green movement, and received $18.1 billion last year alone through capital and private equity investments, according to a study released in August by New Energy Finance.

Wind is gaining traction as a power source and investors and consumers are taking notice. Wind turbines are one popular method of converting wind into power, but they typically require extensive acreage in order to be effective. (For more on this, see our article on wind farms.) Rooftop wind turbines, a scaled-down version that can fit on building rooftops, are emerging as a popular option, particularly in urban settings.

There are several companies that have developed rooftop wind turbines that are more compact than their traditional horizontal-axis counterparts, which look like windmills. Rooftop wind turbines have a vertical axis and “are made primarily with curved, galvanized steel shaped like the double helix of DNA,” according to Plenty.

Small, rooftop wind turbines can capture wind from any direction, and “some can generate electricity in conditions running the gamut from 8-mile-per-hour breezes to 100-mile-per-hour gusts—a range nearly three times that of conventional, horizontal-axis turbines,” according to Plenty. With time, technology will make rooftop wind turbines even more effective.

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Aerotecture International, founded two years ago by Bil Becker, a professor emeritus of engineering at the University of Illinois, Chicago, offers rooftop turbines starting at just $3,000.

California-based PacWind also offers a model at $3,000. This model, intended for residential use, produces up to 2,160 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year, while a commercial model, priced at about $50,000, produces up to 9,600 kWh annually, according to Plenty. The commercial model could provide 10 percent of a 6,500 square foot office building’s annual energy needs, according to Plenty.

Jay Leno, host of the Tonight Show, recently had a PacWind Delta II turbine installed on the roof of the garage in which he stores his car collection. Leno is partnering with Popular Mechanics to make the garage energy efficient.

But, even with the costs of installation, which “typically increases the total price tag by about 35 percent,” according to Plenty, rooftop wind turbines are accessibly priced for investors far less wealthy than Leno.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that energy savings will immediately offset the costs of purchasing a rooftop wind turbine and having it installed.

The average American household used 10,656 kWh of electricity at a cost of 10.4 cents per kWh in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Thus, a $3,000 rooftop wind turbine that cost $1,050 to install and that generated 2,160 kWh per year, at 10.4 cents per kWh, would produce annual energy savings of $224.64. It would take 18 years to recoup the cost of the investment.

The $50,000 rooftop wind turbine would take even longer to pay for itself through energy savings. With the installation fee, the total cost of the investment would be $67,500; the turbine would generate annual energy savings of $998.40. At that rate, the cost of the investment would be recouped in 67.6 years.

But the popularity of the green movement has created a new status symbol: being green. Many people will pay a premium for green services and products. Thus, a building owner who installed a rooftop wind turbine might be able to recoup their investment sooner because they could charge their tenants higher rents. By advertising the building as green, the owner could attract tenants who would willingly pay higher prices to live or work in a building powered, in part, by wind energy.

While rooftop wind turbines are not yet necessarily effective purely as investments, interest in wind power remains high. The wind energy industry grew 22 percent between 2001 and 2006, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The rooftop wind turbine industry is still relatively new and has some gaps in its infrastructure. “There aren’t many companies supplying materials yet [and] there is also no certification process in place for small wind turbines that would verify their safety and performance,” according to Plenty.

In many states, those who install some source of wind power can receive a financial incentive or a tax break. Before installing a rooftop wind turbine, investors should make sure that the building on which they wish to install it is structurally sound enough to be able to support the additional weight and stress. Investors should also make sure that all necessary paperwork is filed and all relevant permits are obtained before having a rooftop wind turbine installed.

Still, in addition the possible financial benefits, as well as the obvious benefit of generating clean energy, people are interested in wind power because of the additional power wind power itself can have within a community. This includes “new jobs, more local revenue, cleaner air, and an essential, home-grown contribution to meeting the challenge of global warming,” Randall Swisher, executive director of AWEA said.

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