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Wind Electricity Energy Basics

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Small wind-electric systems can provide electricity on remote, off-grid sites, or right in town connected to the utility grid. Although wind systems require more maintenance and need more attention than solar-electric or microhydro-electric systems, if you invest up front in good equipment, design, and installation, wind-electric systems can make economic and environmental sense. They also bring a great deal of satisfaction—there´s nothing quite like watching your wind generator convert a summer breeze or a winter storm into electrical energy.

How It Works

Boiled down to its simplest principles, a wind generator´s rotating blades convert the wind´s kinetic energy into rotational momentum in a shaft. The rotating shaft turns an alternator, which makes electricity. This electricity is transmitted through wiring down the tower to its end use.

The blades use engineered airfoils, matched to the alternator, that capture the wind´s energy. Most modern wind generators use three blades, the best compromise between the highest efficiency possible (one blade) and the balance that comes with multiple blades. Together, the blades and the hub they are attached to are termed the rotor, which is the collector of the system, intercepting winds that pass by. Most turbines on the market today are upwind machines—their blades are on the windward side of the tower. A few downwind machines are available, but neither configuration has a clear performance advantage over the other.

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In most small-scale designs, the rotor is connected directly to the shaft of a permanent magnet alternator, which creates wild, three-phase AC. Wild, three-phase electricity means that the voltage and frequency vary continuously with the wind speed. They are not fixed like the 60 Hz, 120 VAC electricity coming out of common household outlets. The wild output is rectified to DC to either charge batteries or feed a grid-synchronous inverter. In most designs (up to 15 KW in peak capacity), the rotor is usually connected directly to the alternator, which eliminates the additional maintenance of gears. In systems 20 KW and larger, as well as some smaller wind systems (like the Endurance, Tulipo, or Aircon), a gearbox is used to increase alternator speed from a slower turning rotor.

The blades must turn to face the wind, so a yaw bearing is needed, allowing the wind turbine to track the winds as they shift direction. The tail directs the rotor into the wind. Some sort of governing system limits the rotor rpm as well as generator output to protect the turbine from high winds. A shutdown mechanism is also useful to stop the machine when necessary, such as during an extreme storm, when you do not need the energy, or when you want to service the system.

In most small-scale designs, the rotor is connected directly to the shaft of a permanent magnet alternator, which creates wild, three-phase AC. Wild, three-phase electricity means that the voltage and frequency vary continuously with the wind speed. They are not fixed like the 60 Hz, 120 VAC electricity coming out of common household outlets. The wild output is rectified to DC to either charge batteries or feed a grid-synchronous inverter. In most designs (up to 15 KW in peak capacity), the rotor is usually connected directly to the alternator, which eliminates the additional maintenance of gears. In systems 20 KW and larger, as well as some smaller wind systems (like the Endurance, Tulipo, or Aircon), a gearbox is used to increase alternator speed from a slower turning rotor.

The blades must turn to face the wind, so a yaw bearing is needed, allowing the wind turbine to track the winds as they shift direction. The tail directs the rotor into the wind. Some sort of governing system limits the rotor rpm as well as generator output to protect the turbine from high winds. A shutdown mechanism is also useful to stop the machine when necessary, such as during an extreme storm, when you do not need the energy, or when you want to service the system.

How Wind Turbines are Rated

Wind turbine rating is a tricky affair. While solar-electric module or microhydro-electric turbine production can be predicted fairly realistically based on rated output, this number is very misleading with wind turbines. Why? Because rated output is pegged to a particular wind speed, and different manufacturers use different wind speeds to determine rated output. Also, the power available in the wind varies with the cube of its speed, so small increases in wind speed result in large increases in power available to the rotor. A 10 percent increase in wind speed yields a 33 percent increase in power available in the wind. Conversely, this means that a turbine rated at 1,000 watts at 28 mph might produce only 125 watts or less at half that wind speed, 14 mph.

So what´s a wind turbine buyer to do? Ignore the peak output and the power curve. Look for the monthly or annual energy numbers for the turbine, estimated for the average wind speed you expect or measure at your site. These will be given in KWH per month (or year) in the manufacturer´s specifications for each turbine. Energy is what you´re after, not peak power! If, for example, you are looking for a turbine that can produce 300 KWH per month, and you know that you have a 10 mph average wind speed at the proposed turbine height, you can shop for a turbine that is predicted to generate that much energy in that average wind speed.

If you can´t get energy production estimates from the manufacturer or a turbine owner, look for a different manufacturer. This is basic information that any manufacturer should supply. However, knowing a turbine´s swept area may also help you calculate the annual energy output for the wind turbine. All other things being equal, ″there´s no replacement for displacement.″ Hugh Piggott gives a rough formula for calculating output based on average wind speed and swept area in his HP102 article. Jim Green at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) developed a similar formula: annual energy output (AEO) in KWH = 0.01328 x rotor diameter (ft.) squared x average wind speed (mph) cubed.

A turbine´s revolutions per minute (rpm) at its rated wind speed can give you some idea of the relative aerodynamic sound of the machine, and also speaks to longevity. Slower-turning wind turbines tend to be quieter and last longer. High rpm machines wear out components, such as bearings, much faster. In addition, the faster blades move through the air, the greater the possibility that they will waste some of that energy as sound from the blades.

How To Choose A Wind Turbine

Trying to keep an inexpensive wind generator running can be an uphill battle that you'll soon tire of. But expect to pay more for a better machine—it´s a tough job to design and manufacture a long-lasting, small-scale wind generator.

The bottom line: Buy a turbine that has a very good track record and a good warranty—five years is preferable but not always available in the small wind industry. A warranty is one indication of the manufacturer´s confidence in their product, and their intention to stand behind it.

Real-world reports from users carry even more weight than a warranty, so search for people who own the model of turbine you´re considering buying, and get the straight scoop from them about performance, durability, reliability, and maintenance issues.

Note that a number of the wind turbines listed here are relatively new introductions with not very much customer run-time in North America. These turbines include the ARE, Eoltec, Kestrel, and Skystream. We recommend that you contact either your local wind turbine installer, or the manufacturers or importers and find out how many of these machines are actually operating in North America. Then contact the owners, and inquire about their experience and satisfaction with both the machine and the manufacturer or importer.

Some manufacturers make only battery-charging machines, and may offer a variety of turbine voltages. Others produce machines intended to connect to grid-synchronous inverters without batteries. One machine even includes an inverter integrated with the turbine itself. Make sure you´re buying a machine that is appropriate for your intended use.

When you look at prices, keep in mind that just buying a wind turbine will not get you any wind-generated electricity. You´ll also need most or all of the components mentioned elsewhere. Also budget for equipment rental, like a backhoe and crane, concrete and rebar, electrical components, shipping, and sales tax. Unless you do all of the work yourself, also factor in installation labor expenses. These costs can add up significantly, so make sure that you research and understand all of the associated expenses before committing to a purchase. Many people are quite surprised to learn that the wind turbine cost can range from only 10 percent to as much as 40 percent of the entire wind system´s expenses.

Small-scale wind energy is not for the half-hearted, uninvolved, or uncommitted, and probably not for folks who never change the oil in their vehicles (or are willing to spend the bucks to hire someone to do the tower work). The North American landscape is littered with failed installations: Designs not fully thought-out or tested, machines bought because they were cheap, and installations that required more time and money for repairs than they ever yielded in electricity generated. Many of the failures were the result of wishful thinking and too little research. That said, there are tens of thousands of happy wind-electric system owners. These owners did their homework—purchasing, designing, and installing rugged and well-thought-out systems on adequately sized towers. In addition, they are either committed to maintaining the systems, or to hiring someone to do this regular work.

While many first-time wind turbine buyers may be looking for a bargain, second-time wind turbine buyers are seeking the most rugged machine they can afford. You can avoid a painful "learning experience″ by focusing on durability, production, warranty, and track record, and not on price alone, or on peak output. You don´t want to depend on the low bidder for something as important to you as your long-term energy investment.

There is a lot of preparatory work to do before you get to see your wind turbine’s blades spin. It includes understanding how much energy you need (or want), how to use energy efficiently, how much wind energy you have available at your site, and how to match your needs with your resource. After you’ve covered this ground, you can start to consider which wind turbine and what balance of system components to buy, and how to install them.

Energy Analysis First

If you want to install a wind-electric system, the first step is to determine how much electricity you use. Electrical energy is measured in kilowatt-hours (KWH), and one way or another, you need to discover how many of them you use per month. You could learn to read your utility meter and check it multiple times over the year. But it’s easier to simply contact your utility, which will usually supply a summary of the past year’s electrical usage.

If you’re planning a new home, you’ll need to estimate your electrical use. Reviewing utility bills from your current home may give you a good estimate if you’re going to use a similar range of appliances. But in the end, this will only be a guess, since your actual usage may vary considerably.

The goal of the analysis is to come up with the number of KWH per year that you want your wind system to generate. Without this number, you’re guessing, and may end up being unhappy with your investment in wind power. If you say you want to make “a lot” of electricity, wind energy experts will tell you that the system will cost “a lot” of money. If you say you want to make 150 KWH per month, your renewable energy installer will be able to suggest a few turbine options and give you a cost in dollars, or at least an informed estimate.
Efficiency Next

Once you know how many KWH you use or expect to use, you could proceed to “Go” and start shopping for wind-electric system components. But your time and money will be better spent by first focusing on energy efficiency. Typical Americans can reduce their home’s energy use by 20% to 50% (or more) by using more efficient lighting and appliances, defeating phantom loads, and simply by being determined to use less.
The Specifications table on pages 32 and 33 shows basic specs for home-scale wind turbines available and supported in North America. Understanding the specifications will help you make intelligent choices when it’s time to buy your turbine.

Manufacturer/importer contact information is included in the Access section at the end of this article. In some cases, the wind turbines are either remanufactured or imported. For imports, the North American contact is listed.

Swept area of the rotor is the area in square feet of the circle “swept” by the blades. This is the “wind collector” area and, besides your average wind speed, is the single largest factor influencing turbine output. A larger rotor will give you more energy, all other things being equal (and they usually are).

Rotor diameter is directly related to swept area. It would be handy to use the square footage of the rotor as an identifier for turbines. More often we use diameter, though it’s hard for most people to quickly determine swept area from rotor diameter figures. Although the difference between a turbine with an 8-foot-diameter and one with a 10-foot-diameter might not seem large, it represents a 58% increase in collector size, with a proportional increase in energy output.

Tower-top weight is necessary to know when choosing your tower, along with swept area. A heavier turbine also may be an indication of a more rugged machine. Though weight itself doesn’t necessarily translate into turbine longevity, a rugged turbine that holds up over the long haul often results from a heavier machine.

Annual energy output (AEO) at 8 through 13 mph gives you some general numbers to match to your site’s average wind speed and energy needs. Note that all AEOs provided in the table are either from the manufacturer or derived from manufacturer’s data. Your turbine’s performance on your site may vary, sometimes significantly. Be conservative, by choosing the next larger turbine when you’re not sure of your exact energy use or if the exact size turbine you need is not available. Also, AEOs apply to locations from sea level to 1,000 feet in elevation and must be adjusted for lower air density at higher altitudes. Your installer or turbine manufacturer can help you crunch these numbers.

Rpm is the blade revolution speed at the turbine’s rated output and relates to two factors in wind generators: durability and sound production. A slower rotor speed will generally mean a longer-lasting turbine—less wear and tear on the rotating parts. It also usually means a quieter turbine. Note that lower rpm does not mean lower production, nor does higher rpm mean higher production. In both cases, the alternator is matched to the rotor speed to get as much energy out of the wind as possible.

Governing system describes the method the turbine uses to shed excess energy in high winds to protect the turbine from overspeed. Some turbines tilt, or “furl,” the rotor directly up or to the side, while others furl at an angle. Still others use blade pitch control, turning the blades out of their optimum aerodynamic angle, so that they don’t capture as much energy. Blade pitching more reliably protects the wind generator. Machines that have this feature cost more (due to more moving parts and complexity) than machines that furl.

Governing wind speed is the point at which the turbine starts governing. A low governing speed shows that the turbine designer was conservative—more interested in long-term operation than squeezing out a bit more energy from infrequent high winds.

Shutdown mechanism is different from governing, and refers to a method to stop the turbine for service, in an emergency, or when you just don’t need the energy. Many small turbines have no mechanical means to shut them down. Instead, they rely on dynamic braking (electrical shorting of the windings), which does not always work, especially when needed in higher winds. Mechanical brakes are usually more reliable than dynamic braking. Generally, more expensive wind turbines have more reliability and redundancy built into their shutdown mechanisms.

Batteryless grid-tie tells you whether the turbine is available in this configuration, normally the most cost-effective choice. All battery-charging turbines can be grid-tied via a battery-based inverter designed to synchronize its output with the utility grid, if you’re determined to have protection from utility outages. But this approach will incur inefficiencies, losses, and additional cost.

Battery voltages are listed for battery-charging turbines, so you can choose the right turbine voltage for your battery bank. Most modern whole-house battery-based RE systems today use a 48 V battery bank (with an inverter to supply the house with 120 or 240 VAC).

Controls included are what you get when you buy the turbine—whether it includes a controller, a dump load, and metering. These components can be expensive, so don’t forget to add them into your calculations if they are not included.

Cost is for the turbine and any included controls, in U.S. dollars. This is only one component in the system, and usually not the most expensive one. A tower, batteries, and inverter each can easily exceed the turbine cost. Note that the EW 15, V-15, V-17, and PGE turbines also include tower, wiring, all installation materials, and labor costs.
Warranty is an indication of the manufacturer’s confidence in the machine, or is set to meet the requirements for incentive programs in states such as California. Find out what is covered—usually it’s equipment only, and not the costs of replacement labor, which can be significant. Several of the manufacturers that offer shorter than five-year warranties will extend the warranties for an additional cost.

What we’re not listing is rated or peak power. That data is close to meaningless and a distracting marketing ploy. One cannot accurately predict annual energy output (which is what you want to know) from peak power, since two machines with similar peak power can give very different energy outputs.
Selecting Your Turbine

Now that you know your needs and you’ve determined your resource, it’s time to go shopping. Any wind turbine manufacturer worth buying from can supply you with annual energy output (AEO) numbers for various average wind speeds. You simply need to choose a turbine that will produce the amount of energy you need with your wind resource. If you determine that you want to generate 2,100 KWH per year in your 11 mph average wind regime, check out the manufacturers’ output predictions to see what’s available.

For off-grid applications, you’ll need to consider seasonal energy usage. If your windiest season matches up with your heaviest use of energy, you’ll make the most of your system. But in other cases, you may need to oversize your wind turbine to cover the seasonal load variation. And with off-grid systems, you will almost certainly need a second source of energy, like solar electricity.
Balance of Systems

A wind turbine is just one part of a system. You’ll need other components to actually make electricity. Though the wind generator is a critical component to buy well, you should give similar attention to the other parts of the system.

Your tower design will be determined by the weight and swept area of your wind generator, the specifics of your site, and your preferences and budget. (See the tower article referenced in Access for more information.) The best suppliers of wind generators also supply towers, knowing what is appropriate for their machines.

System electronics include charge controllers, inverters, and metering. Sometimes these are included with the turbine, and other times you have some choices—depending on whether your home is off-grid or on, battery-based or batteryless. Make sure you understand the options, as these components must be matched to the turbine and to other parts of your system.

Batteries are a big subject, and if you intend to use them in your system, you should educate yourself. Off-grid users must carefully consider how much storage they want, and whether they will use backup or other energy sources like PV.
Do It Right!

If you’re a novice at electrical and mechanical installations, don’t even consider taking on a wind turbine installation yourself. Because of gravity and the tower heights involved, this is serious business—fraught with potential danger to life and limb, as well as the opportunity to make poor design and installation decisions that could affect performance and safety over the life of the system. If you have any doubt about your abilities, hire a professional. Think of this system like an automobile. Most of us don’t even do our own auto maintenance; much less would we would even consider designing and building a vehicle. Wind electricity is not an easy DIY project, and may never be, since it requires tall towers to get the turbine up into its “fuel.”

Wind-electric systems are not easy, simple, cheap, or perfectly reliable. But if you do your homework, buy quality equipment, and get the help you need, you can end up with a long-lasting and satisfying system. Thousands of families have done just that, and they look up regularly to see their turbine spinning, making electricity from the wind!

Electricity Energy Monitor (Sailwider-SmartPower's monitor can be used to monitor home wind/solar plant)

Wireless Electricity Energy Control System with monitoring function for Home Solar Power Generator Plant

The basic figures contained within a monthly or quarterly electricity bill do not give you much information as to where your electricity is going - they just tell you how much you have used in total during that period and how much totally you need to pay. Therefore it is well worth considering purchasing an electricity usage monitor and using it to see exactly where all your hard-earned money is going.

energy monitors

One great way to find out how much electricity each of your household appliances and electronic devices uses is with a wireless electricity power/energy monitor, which shows you in real time exactly how much money your total home or office electricity usage is costing you. These monitors can help you reduce your electricity consumption by as much as 20% simply by showing you what you are using. Sailwider-SmartPower is a developer and manufacturer of electricity power monitor and controlling system.

electricity monitors

Most electricity energy monitors in the market are uni-directional (1-way) only, that means you can only get energy consumption information from the monitor. The bi-directional (2-way) electricity power monitoring and control system from Sailwider-SmartPower makes the user not only able to monitor the electricity usage, but also can easily remote control the connected electrical appliances wirelessly, providing great convenience to electricity efficiency management.

appliance controller /home energy control system

Our smart electricity energy monitors with home solar plant monitoring function belongs to our uni-directional electricity monitoring system and is developed specially for households installed with home solar plant, providing a perfect solution for the home owners to monitor both the home electricity consumed in total and the energy produced by solar. Meanwhile, the system displays the balance between the consumption and production to the family members. This system is only for monitoring purpose, if you also want the system with appliances control function, please refer to our wireless energy control system with home solar monitoring function.


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