Last year, some 7,000 Americans invested in small wind turbines. While sales have been growing about 15 to 20 percent a year, wind still accounts for a little more than 1 percent of the energy consumed in the United States, compared with 7 percent in Germany and 20 percent in Denmark.
In a typical residential setup, the turbine is mounted on top of a tall tower. (Most wind experts don't recommend installing them on rooftops, since this can make your house vibrate like a coin-operated motel bed and lead to structural problems.) A small inverter, often on the axle hub, converts direct current generated by wind into usable alternating current that travels to the home's electrical panel via an underground cable. Since even light winds generate power, you can use small turbines just about anywhere, but it doesn't hurt if you live in a part of the country known for strong gusts (see map). Most manufacturers recommend that you have at least an acre of land unobstructed by trees or structures, since they may weaken the turbine's performance.
Depending on your energy needs, a 2- to 10-kilowatt system can power an entire home. The Janeses' 1.8-kilowatt system cost about $5,400 for the turbine itself, $3,700 for the tower, and $3,000 for the foundation and installation. They spent an additional $3,000 on other items, such as a wireless remote that tells them how much energy the turbine is producing, an upgraded meter, and various zoning and electrical permits.
Of course, installing a wind turbine is a lot cheaper if you live in a state that offers tax incentives, discounts, or rebates (Find out if your state does here
). "The biggest obstacle to getting wind power off the ground to residential customers is the absence of a stable support policy on the federal level—the kind Denmark, Germany, and Spain have," says Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.—based American Wind Energy Association
(AWEA). The last time federal-level incentives were offered to homeowners was in 1985, though Real de Azua is hoping that will change soon. As of press time, the United States Congress was debating legislation that would provide a federal investment tax credit to purchasers of small wind systems with capacities of up to 100 kilowatts.