Review: Build Your Own Small Wind Power System

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Conversation at the dinner table often becomes too technical for me. My husband and four kids are very math and science-minded, with lots of hands-on experience turning their ideas into something useful.

Many of those discussions turn into real ways to make our small farm operate more efficiently. They’ve created parts that no longer exist for the ancient implements we still use to bale hay, turned old furniture into bathroom cabinets, and reconfigured our home heating system to run entirely on wood (utilizing our acreage full of ash trees killed by emerald ash borer).

I remember a few conversations about wind power after my sons read last year’s geeky inspirational blockbuster, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. At the age of 14, Malawian villager William Kamkwamba built a windmill to generate power for his family using discarded motor parts, PVC pipe, and an old bicycle wheel. His example spurred my family members to consider wind power. They consulted an electrical engineer friend and checked out our area’s average wind speed. They also did all sorts of calculations about net energy output, metal fatigue, and payoff time. But the topic died when other, seemingly more feasible projects grabbed their attention.

So we were delighted to pass around Build Your Own Small Wind Power System by renewable energy experts Keven Shea and Brian Clark Howard. This book is the ultimate resource. It’s useful for anyone around the world interested in renewable DIY energy. It provides the necessary technical information for installing a grid-connected or off-grid system while also answering all conceivable background questions. This 472 page volume is packed with charts, data, and links to help you evaluate your site, learn about government and power company perks, obtain permits and financing, select the right components, troubleshoot and maintain your system, and promote wind-friendly policies. It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive guide.

Personally I find the sight of wind turbines  to be a heartening example of progress. But to have one built or build it ourselves seemed cost prohibitive until I read this book. The authors ask us to change the way we think about any purchase using (or producing) energy. Some merchandise is priced lower up front (incandescent compared to LED lighting, for example) but the overall cost is greater when energy usage over the product’s lifetime are figured in.  They suggest that items include a projected lifetime energy cost so consumers might have the necessary data to help them make informed purchases. The same case can be made for energy choices.

Permit us to suggest that wind power is a paradigm shift with energy, because the lifetime cost is up-front. Imagine that your power authority moved its conventional utility to every home to produce energy. Imagine having to pay for the fuel and having to deal with the noise, dirt, and air pollution of a coal or gas generator in your garage (in fact, many of our grandparents had to do just that). Then imagine discovering wind power.

We’d all like to become more energy independent. My family would certainly prefer to make a more eco-friendly choice than burning wood. If the discussions this book has sparked are any indicator, the long arms of a wind turbine may some day wave within sight of my back porch.

A review copy was provided for this post.

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