A. Although small wind systems involve a significant initial investment, they can be competitive with conventional energy sources when you account for a lifetime of reduced or altogether avoided utility costs, especially considering escalating fuel costs.
The cost of buying and installing a small wind energy system typically ranges from about $4,000-7,000 per kilowatt for a grid-connected installation, less than half the cost of a similar solar electric system. The length of the payback period (or, the time it takes to ‘break even’) depends on the system you choose, the wind resource at your site, your power provider’s electricity rates, and financing and incentives available. Small wind owners with strong average wind speeds who can take advantage of rebate programs can usually recoup their investments within fifteen years.
Many states have rebate or tax credit programs in place to encourage small wind and other renewable energy applications. AWEA’s state-by-state pages provide information specific to buying and installing a small wind turbine in each of several U.S. states, including the availability of net metering, local or state incentive programs, and utility incentives.
The cost of a wind system has two components: Initial installation costs and operating expenses. Installation costs include the purchase price of the complete system (including tower, wiring, utility interconnection equipment, power conditioning unit, monitoring system etc.) plus delivery and permitting costs, installation charges, professional fees and taxes.
A 5-kW grid-connected residential-scale system generally costs $20-25,000 to install. The best candidates for these systems are homes and businesses with at least a half acre of property, a Class 3 or better wind resource, and utility bills averaging $150 per month or more. If a net metering arrangement is available from the utility, most of the power generated by a grid-connected system can be valued at the retail rate of electricity, reducing the amount of time it takes for a system to pay for itself.
In California, where net metering and the nation’s highest electric rates are combined with a substantial rebate program and a state tax credit, small wind system owners with strong wind resources can recoup their initial investment in under 5 years, and enjoy essentially free electricity for the remainder of the system’s 30-year useful life. Such a wind energy system can be an excellent, low-risk investment. It can provide a return of up to 15-20%, depending on electric usage and the wind resource.
Smaller systems can offset electricity costs, provide independence they can also can be used to offset electricity costs, or to independently power specific applications such as water pumps or recreational vehicle lights and appliances.
A 2.5 kW turbine, including 20-25 foot tower, utility-tie inverter, utility switch box, hardware and installation components, costs about $15,000 installed. A homeowner can typically save at least 20% off the electric bill with a 2.5 kW turbine, given reasonably strong wind resources.(Savings depend on average annual wind speed, tower height, electrical cost and average electric bill.)
Remote systems may require operating battery storage. Individual batteries cost from $150 to $300 for a heavy-duty, 12 volt, 220 amp-hour, deep-cycle type. Larger capacity batteries, those with higher amp-hour ratings, cost more. A 110-volt, 220 amp-hour battery storage system, which includes a charge controller, costs at least $2,000.
The cost of extending the utility grid to a new home location can be significant, sometimes as high as $20,000-$30,000 for a distance of only one-quarter of a mile. For the same initial investment, a utility-independent renewable energy system can be installed that will meet the electricity needs of an energy-efficient home. Such a system will typically include a combination of a wind turbine, photovoltaics, batteries, an inverter, and a back-up generator. These systems can be cost-effective on a first-cost basis alone, not to mention the avoidance of monthly utility bills for years to come.