Pick up any newspaper across the US these days and I will bet you a dollar to a donut you will find at least one article about energy. It is also very likely you will find at least one article about Wind Energy in particular.
Wind is very exciting! Wind is CLEAN ENERGY!
It is a very powerful feeling to leave a house and know the homeowner is producing their own energy!!! They have their own private power plant!!!
I smile as my phone rings with calls from consumers inquiring about wind. It gives me a chance to share what I have learned and it is rare when I don't learn something from the party on the phone.
I also hear questions that tell me there is confusion being created by so many articles, points of view and the variety of wind energy systems available.
This is a map from KHOU in Houston showing Centerpoint Energy's expected completion of power restoration in the areas of Texas affected by IKE. (I hope Stephanie is fairing ok!)
Something I hear quite often is that people expect with a wind energy system they will have power in times of outages like this.
I have to explain that is not necessarily so.
There are basically two different types of connections with residential wind generators
2. grid tied - the majority of small wind energy systems feed the energy produced to the power company. These are required to have an automatic shut off when the grid is down. Otherwise, you could produce energy and feed it back to the grid while some poor line worker is trying to restore power to your neighbors. The poor line worker would get a heck of a shock!
So this takes care of misconception #1.
The majority of wind energy systems my company installs are Grid Tied. For most households the best source of backup power is the electric companies grid! Why? There will be times when the wind doesn't blow so you won't create any energy and for the average household the draw will normally be more than their wind generator can produce.
Now the conversation moves toward, "So then I can sell the extra I make to the electric company?"**
Well...another deep subject! (sorry, I had to say it!)
This is where I play badminten and volley the shuttlecock back over the net,
"How many kilowatts a month (year) do you use?"
Wow! you would think I asked a question about the periodic table. It's unfortunate...most people simply don't know.
I must confess, I never knew until I got into this field and that's ok! I know now! (and obviously this family needs to work on some things!!!) and this is what is important! Awareness is half the battle!
So help me out here...How many average kilowatts does your household use in a year? There are a couple of ways to find out.
1. Many utility companies now have an online site where you can check your history. You will need to register and will normally you will need your billing handy because you will need your account number and some other personal information. I have found this to be the simplest way.
2. If you don't have access to the internet you can go through your records of paper bills (ugh!) add the kilowatt hours you have used over "x" number of months, divide by "x" number of months and walla! you have an average. The kilowatt hours on my bill - Consumers Energy - are listed in the upper right hand corner. Each utility will vary where place kilowatt hours on the bill.
3. If you can't access the internet or paper billing records you will have to call your utility company (double ugh!) and have them send it to you. This is always last resort!
In climates like Michigan and other parts of the midwest it is good to get a 12 month average.
Why? We use a fair amount of air conditioning in the summer, which is electric. Most of our homes are heated with some type of gas or fuel oil so the electric utility is normally lower during winter months. A twelve month average works best.
One note (I have to get my rant in...) Many people pay their utilities on a "budget" program. There are several reasons I disagree with this plan. The most important reason is that people tend to look at the dollar amount of their bill and not the kilowatt hours used. If the bill stays the same for 10 months out of the year most people are unaware of times when they are using more energy.
This causes less conservation again due to unawareness. (read: higher utility bills)
So I'll just wait right here while you go get that information! This is the really important part!! Then we can get on to part II and find out,
"Is your home ready for a small wind energy system?"
**Currently 30 states require net metering. If you can't wait the American Wind Energy Association has a nice write up on net metering and explains each states policy!
COPYRIGHT © 2008 Mary McGraw-Bigelow All Rights Reserved
Picture: SkyStream 3.7 Small Wind Energy System, Manistee, Michigan