Consumers Turning to Small Wind Systems
How big is the land beside your home or business? How big is your monthly utility bill?
These are not unrelated questions.
For the last few years, a growing numbers of American home and business owners are turning to wind energy for a long-term solution to reducing energy costs. Small wind turbine systems that generate from 1 to 100 kilowatts are saving consumers as much as 30 percent on what they spend on electricity. In some areas blessed by constant windy conditions, it’s as easy as visiting the local Home Depot or Lowe’s.
The latest annual survey by the American Wind Energy Association, for 2010, found that installed capacity from small systems increased by 15 percent while the number of units sold decreased by 6 percent. The survey said the trends reflect a continuing market shift to grid-tied systems, with those powering homes (1-10 kw) and small to mid-sized businesses (11-100) emerging dominant in the market.
Overall, the trend for wind generation of all sizes has continued. Last month, the association released data for the second quarter of 2011, which showed a 72 percent increase of installed generating capacity over the same period last year, 2,151 megawatts compared with 1,250 mw last year.
“Sales are good, not yet stellar,” said Andy Kruse, co-founder and Executive Vice President of Business Development for Southwest Windpower, a Flagstaff, Arizona company that has become the world’s leading manufacturer of small wind systems, as measured by kilowatts sold, 11,700 in 2009.
Consumer interest in small wind systems has been spurred largely by a federal investment tax credit that remains available through 2016 and other incentives offered by states. The website http://dsireusa.org/ provides complete federal and state-by-state breakdowns of various programs available from state and local governments for wind and other renewable sources of energy.
The number of small wind systems installed in the United States has been growing steadily for a decade. In 2009, manufacturers sold 9,800 units in the United States, a 467 percent increase over the 2,100 units sold in 2001.
U.S. sales currently represents about 44 percent of sales worldwide, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
These smaller wind systems for home or business are not inexpensive, with a typical retail price of $15,000 and $20,000. That means many buyers need financing to take advantage of the energy cost savings that will accrue over a long period of time, eventually offsetting the cost of the system.
Finding more financing options remains the industry’s biggest challenge, especially during these uncertain economic times.
“People don’t have $15,000 to pay for a system,” said Kruse. “But once we can identify financing, we expect to see a tremendous boom in sales.”
The wind association predicts that the number of homes with an acre of land or less with a wind system will grow from the 12 million recorded in 2010 to 13.9 million in 2020. The number of houses on more than an acre with a wind system is projected to increase from 25.2 million in 2010 to 29.3 million a decade later.
To help expand the use of wind, Southwest Windpower has begun a partnership with Home Depot to sell systems suitable for residential, farm and small business use at stores in areas where wind is plentiful. The stores are located in Texas, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and California.
The company says the systems are designed to work in very low winds, capable of producing up to 400 kWh of electricity per month, depending on the wind and site location.
Bergey WindPower Company, based in Oklahoma, has a similar arrangement with Lowe’s stores in California.
Kruse said the growing interest in small wind systems is also helping create jobs. Wherever sales increase, manufacturers need trained personnel to help consumers navigate local zoning regulations and install the systems.
Compared with solar, the use of wind energy in the United States remains small, with solar generating more than 450 megawatts in 2009 to about 20 for wind. But the growth trajectory for wind is encouraging, according to the trade group, with 95 companies now competing for sales, rising investor interest and growing numbers of consumers eager to save money and help the environment at the same time.
The next step for continued growth, industry experts say, is winning an extension of the Production Tax Credit, which is set to expire in 2012.
“We’re growing,” Kruse said of the small wind generation market. “Once people recognize how this industry works and see that they can produce clean energy in their own backyard, there’s no limit to where we can go.”