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Reno Site Offers Comparison Shopping for Home Wind Turbines

Small turbine sales are increasing every year, but useful data on the amount of electricity the turbines generate is still hard to come by

By Maria Gallucci

Mar 28, 2011

In a push to promote urban wind power, city officials in Reno, Nevada, are helping consumers take the guesswork out of buying home turbines.

The city has launched an online consumer guide called the that allows potential buyers to track performance of nine different turbines at four sites throughout Reno, including the city hall and a water treatment plant.

Last month, data collected on wind speed, wind direction and potential energy production began streaming in real time to the three-dimensional, interactive .

The goal is to show homeowners and businesses how each turbine type might fare in their own communities — and where wind resources exceed the city average. Most of the turbines were installed at the end of last year.

"We're an area known for being windy. But we weren't sure how good of a resource it was," Jason Geddes, Reno's environmental services administrator, said of the afternoon "zephyr" winds that blow down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

"The idea was to get some of these new urban turbines and show people what they're like," he told SolveClimate News. "We thought we could be that neutral source and go out and get our own data."

The smallest turbines, or micro units, range from .02 to .5 kilowatts, or enough electricity to charge a car battery. The larger turbines can reach 100 kilowatts and are an ideal size for generating power at large facilities with heavy electricity loads, according to the (AWEA).

Wind towers in the Reno project — each a different make and model — range from 1.5 to 15 kilowatts, a scale suitable for pumping water at the three waste treatment plants included in the initiative, for example. An average utility-scale turbine, by comparison, can churn out 1,500 kilowatts, or 1.5 megawatts, of clean power. 

Home Wind Bonanza, But No Solid Data

Nationally, small wind installations are steadily popping up as more people look to incorporate clean energy into their electricity mix, and as ease the economic restraints on consumer-level wind power.

In 2009, U.S. sales on small units grew to $83 million on 9,800 units — up 15 percent from 2008 sales — for a total of 20.3 megawatts in installed wind capacity, according to from AWEA. The industry group is set to report 2010 figures in May.

Residential-scale turbines can cost from $3,000 to $50,000 to install, though a typical home wind system costs around $32,000 for 10 kilowatts of capacity. A comparable photovoltaic solar system would cost over $80,000 to install, AWEA.

If sales keep up, the group says it expects the U.S. market to reach 1,000 megawatts of total installed small wind capacity by 2015.

Despite the fanfare for small wind, however, useful information is still hard to come by, said David Rabkin of the Boston .

The museum's roof-mounted has tracked the progress of five small wind systems since 2009 as part of an ongoing exhibit. The project began after a turbine installed on Boston's city hall produced limited power and high costs.

"When we got into this and started looking at small wind, we found a real lack of experience out there in the world. There was a lot of marketed material, but not a lot of data. Not a lot of people could answer our questions," Rabkin told SolveClimate News.

Scientists and engineers working on the lab found that moving turbines even short distances could drastically affect the wind power potential, and building custom roof mounts could cost just as much as the turbine itself.

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