Thursday, May 13, 2010

Small Scale Wind Power Analysis - Fail

I have mentioned that I am the proud owner of a hobby farm. On it we have five head of cattle, a couple ponies, a few chickens and that is it the last time I checked a week or so ago. The farm is about 20 acres.

Recently I did a cost analysis of setting up this property with a windmill to power the place. My vision was to get "off the grid" and have a place I could retreat to and survive in if a natural disaster or act of terrorism happened, as well as getting "free" electricity and perhaps selling juice back to the grid as I have read others have done. I am very impressed with the small solar powered items I have bought and installed at the farm - they power the electric fences and provide power for some outdoor lighting. These items were relatively cheap and easy to install. You can get them at virtually any farm and/or retail store.

Doing the research for this project I learned a lot. The first thing I did was email the local utility, Madison Gas and Electric. Within a few hours they referred me to Focus on Energy. You can read about who makes up this organization here. Basically Focus is an organization that encourages and helps people and businesses to conserve energy and buy appliances and systems that will use less energy in the future. They also have rebate programs.

I didn't have accurate data for the amount of electricity that my farm used over the past year, but I did have the bills. They are less than the usage at my house, so I used my home bills as a baseline. On average my house uses (or should I say we use) 1158 Kilowatt Hours (kwh) per month of electricity. The high months were January at 1,756 and December at 1,771. The lows were 747 in May and 905 for August (we had a very cool summer last year). The total usage in 2009 for my house was 13,897 kwh.

If you take a look at the Focus on Energy website there is a TON of information on wind power. I took many of the following conclusions from the information presented there.

To completely power an operation the size of my house with wind generated electricity I need approximately 14,000 kwh per year. I probably need less for the farm, but still it is a good number to use. But there are a few caveats. One is that any windmill or turbine needs to be thirty (30) feet above any structure or nearby trees to capture the best wind for usage. The planned site for my turbine was going to be next to the barn. The barn stands approximately 50 feet tall (maybe taller, I never really measured) so the turbine would need to be somewhere in the 75-100 foot range up in the air. This may be a zoning issue as my farm property is in the flight path of a local tiny municipal airport. I don't think this is an issue but regardless it is a good point that my wife brought up.

According to this page at Focus on Energy I would need the model ARE 442 with a 12 mph wind or the model Gaia-3 in a 10 mph wind. And that is something else I learned. The efficiency and power output of the turbines collapse in a huge way when you get below 10 mph. Fortunately, Focus on Energy has wind charts for 10 mph and up for the State of Wisconsin. Here is the chart at 30 meters, and here it is at 40 meters. I look good at 40 meters, but at 30 it is close - very close. Also, I have some hills on my land which doesn't help any. By the way, 30 meters is almost 100 feet in the air. I don't think looking at this information that I could keep the 10 mph target at my property. Large chunks of the State of Wisconsin fall under this, as a note of interest.

But lets say that I can hit the 10 mph mark, just to continue this discussion to the end, the money part. The smallest unit I can use to fulfill my needs would be the Gaia-3 - BUT this is a three phase unit and I have no need for three phase at my farm. So, I would have to pray that the ARE442 unit would work (rated at 11,220 kwh at 10mph and 17,520 kwh at 12mph) or the Jacobs 31-20 unit (rated at 12,750 kwh at 10 mph and 21,990 kwh at 12mph). Again, there is a lot of praying involved to hopefully keep up that 10 mph wind, at least according to the wind charts provided by Focus on Energy.

According once again to Focus, the installed cost for the ARE 442 as of January 2009 is $71,000 and the Jacobs 31-20 would cost $80,000. Of course these are cocktail napkin estimates - the final cost could be lower, or higher - but these are good ballpark numbers to use.

Here is a bit of good news though - the feds (that is you and me) will give me a 30% tax credit for the cost of the turbine. And Focus on Energy will give me a maximum of 25% of the installed cost back (but this depends on the amount of energy generated so is not a hard figure - you can find it here) and any and all wind power stuff like this is exempt from Wisconsin state taxes. The Focus on Energy rebate dollars are only payable after one year of data collecting so if you believe in inflation as I do, those dollars will be worth less by the time I would get them. So in the end, lets just say that after the installed cost it really isn't worth it. And remember, I need to pray that the wind stays above 10 mph or this is all pie in the sky.

Oh yes, one more thing I forgot. This. She isn't sure that she wants to see this thing some 100' in the air chopping up the cute birdies. Huh.

Well, I learned a lot from this thought exercise. Wind power for farms I would imagine would be a great thing if you used a lot of power. But for my little hobby farm, I think I am much better served with my money getting a natural gas generator in case the electric goes down (my disaster plan). Or doing nothing at all.

After looking at and analyzing my electric bills, I have started a program at my house that includes the family members to try to get everyone to quit leaving lights and TV's on all over the house. If we do well I will take the family out for ice cream once a month. I project I will save over one thousand dollars a year from doing the simple things, but that is certainly grist for another post.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.


Mark said...

For disaster, I think you would be better off with a diesel generator (diesels can run on almost anything in a pinch). But I have no idea how much they cost. I think you're way overestimating energy usage during a disaster. Are you really going to be running computers, TVs and the AC? I bet a Skystream or Whisper 500 would be sufficient and they are relatively easy to install.

Now that I think about it... if you have a tractor they make generators that run off the PTO that are big enough to run a farm. My dad has one and he is the most popular guy in the neighborhood when the power goes out (farmers need to keep their milk cold, obviously).

Dan from Madison said...

"Are you really going to be running computers, TVs and the AC?" Well, f1ck yea I am, I need to watch everyone else in despair! And what is a disaster if you don't have A/C!

Seriously, diesel/nat gas generator is the way, diesel if I wanted to really prepare for the worst. We don't have tractor yet but maybe somewhere down the line and I have looked into generators run off the PTO.

Dan from Madison said...

Of course diesels suck ass in the ccccccold I don't care how much anti gel stuff you put in there, but there are pros and cons to everything.

Mark said...

Sweet - I hope you have a silo to setup as a guard tower/command center.

Dan from Madison said...

As a matter of fact I do, a mg nest at the top would be sweet now that you mention it.

Gerry from Valpo said...

There are so many government handouts and tax breaks to farmers and farm landowners I hope you are taking advantage of each and every one. May as well grab it since you help pay for it.

Carl from Chicago said...

Since the power industry essentially paid my way all those years I have to leave extra lights on to make it up to them.

No really, good idea on the power, you should get one of those gadgets that measures use of each of the devices they are fun to play with anyways.