Dear Umbra,

Are there any worthwhile resources or models that would enable me to generate my own electricity in a cost-effective way, using wind power? This is on a one-household basis.

Matt Pines
Toronto, Canada

Dearest Matt,

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In jargon-land, you are interested in micro-wind. Little did you know!

Because you are a blessed Canadian, you have an excellent resource, the Canadian Wind Energy Association’s small-wind calculator. Just enter your postal code and average electric bill to see what a turbine might cost, what your payback time might be, and how glad you are to live in Canada. CWEA can also point you to consultants, providers, and installers. (Oh, OK, U.S. residents can play around too — with the National Wind Technology Center’s Clean Power Estimator.)

He’s got wind, but does he know how to
use it?

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For small-scale wind turbines to be a practical option, you need at least half an acre of land in a wind-rich area. Based on the postal code you sent me, you are not a good wind candidate — but! — you can still support wind power. Toronto proper has a WindShare Co-op with turbines in the urban zone. That is cool.

Or maybe you do have some secret plot of land, Matt. In that case, you should be able to figure out fairly quickly whether you have enough space to safely accommodate a turbine. An acre is considered a healthy parcel for a small tower (35 to 85 feet high).

Then you need to determine whether you have the wind resources to produce energy for your household needs — enough to justify the expense of the turbine. Look here at this wind resource map of Canada and see where your home falls. (U.S. residents can check out the Wind Energy Resource Atlas of the United States and State Wind Resources Maps; other folks, see Wind Atlases of the World.) If you suspect a treasure trove of power awaits, your best bet is to raise a 30-foot or higher monitoring tower, put an anemometer atop it, and actually measure what’s blowing through.

Your decision to go with wind shouldn’t be affected by whether you are on or off the electric grid, because you may be able to do net metering in the first instance, and wind can be cheaper than bringing the grid to your home in the second instance. Many major cities have renewable-energy advocacy groups; rural areas with any back-to-the-land presence will also have individuals and groups with experience building grid-less power. There are also plenty of folks on this world-wide-web thing who are eager to tell you how to build your own turbine (but you didn’t hear it here). Hook up with any of these fans and, at the least, you’ll never again want for cocktail-party conversation.