Wind Turbines: Can They Turn a Profit?

Wind Turbines: Can They Turn a Profit

Wind turbine costs were significantly lowered by the advent of better, more affordable production lines, as well as a constant growth of year-to-year market demand in the past decade. Government subsidies for renewable energy initiatives also make up for significant rebates which render the overall expense even more attractive.

If you’ve come here asking yourself how much does a wind turbine cost, you’ve come to the right place. In what follows, you can find out how this technology works, but also what costs you’re likely to be faced with when investing in a wind turbine. (Looking for the pros and cons of wind energy more generally? Click the preceding link!)

How Does a Wind Turbine Work?

Before trying to estimate windmill costs, it’s important to first understand how this technology works. Although ancient civilizations harnessed the power of wind as far back as 3,000 B.C., when their sailboats were able to cross wide spans of ocean water, windmills were not invented until the 7th century A.D.

Automatically operated turbines appeared as late as the 19th century. Needless to say that those machineries were mammoths by comparison to modern-day standards. Ever since, wind turbine costs have gone down significantly, while their efficiency and peak output has gone up.

The functioning principle behind wind turbines is quite simple. The wind’s energy turns a propeller that is connected to a rotor. The latter is coupled to a shaft whose movement is tied into a generator. The generator’s role is to transform this rotating movement into electricity, thereby rendering the energy of the wind into raw electricity.

Windmill costs vary greatly depending on the model and size of the system itself. Horizontal axis wind turbines are more expensive up front, as they are bigger, more difficult to install, and significantly harder to maintain. Despite this, they tend to be the best way to generate electricity from wind power.

Types of Wind Turbines

Types of Wind Turbines

There are two major types of windmills, horizontal axis (the kind with the big turbine blades) and vertical axis wind turbines (HAWTs and VAWTs). This is a crucial difference if you’re wondering much does a wind turbine cost.

HAWTs are tall, large, and generally used in commercial and governmental applications. Their height can vary from a modest 70 meters (229 ft.) to an extreme 160 meters (524 ft.). The inner workings of these machines tend to be more complex, as they need to be pointed towards the wind in order to be effective, turned on when the wind is high enough, but also off if the velocity of the latter goes beyond 55 mph (88 kmh).

Alternatively, VAWTs are smaller and more urban-friendly. Unlike their horizontal counterparts, they make significantly less noise and vibration. In addition, their height is comparable to that of a four-story building, while their engine is at the base of the structure. This makes their maintenance much easier, thereby lowering the wind turbine costs. Their appearance and their process of harnessing the wind energy also differ. If HAWTs are turned by the incoming wind with little to no drag, Darrieus VAWTs mostly rely on the lift force, as is the case with helicopter aerodynamics.

There are also Savonius-type VAWTs. If the Darrieus have blades shaped like an egg beater, the former have thick, wide cups that span the entire length of the shaft. The crucial difference between them is that Savonius relies on the same force that HAWTs do, but has way smaller efficiency, so much so that its wind turbine costs make it a highly ineffective system. At most, it can achieve a third of what a Darrieus rotor is capable of providing.

Wind Turbine Expenses

As you might have expected, the answer to the question of how much does a wind turbine cost is entirely dependent on the system you’re looking to purchase. Furthermore, electricity tends to be cheaper in developed countries that have steady access to immense supplies of energy than in developing areas.

Living far off from the grid is also known to increase kilowatt-hour costs, which needs to be factored in. Below, you’ll find some estimates of initial, up-front fees, as well as an approximate of the payback period in certain cases.

1. Wind Mill Costs for Domestic Use

A Darrieus-type turbine is more suitable for residential use. The main reason for this is their near-silent operation, as well as manageable size. Although this might not be a problem with people living off the grid, chances are you’ll have a neighbor who would be terribly upset with your newly bought wind turbine if it is too noisy or if it happens to give off strong vibrations.

Home wind turbine systems capable of generating around 10 kW can vary between $30,000 and $55,000 to install. The product itself is valued at around $40,000, while the rest of the sum is shipping and installation, which will vary according to your location, as well as based upon contractor fees.

The trouble with determining wind turbine costs beyond the initial purchase is the variability of wind energy supply. If you happen to live in an area that receives steady winds of over 16 mph (25 kmh) all year round, the payback period can be as small as 6 years. Otherwise, you might be looking at a good thirty or more years until the system pays for itself.

Sometimes, smaller systems may never recover their cost within a lifetime. This does not necessarily make them a poor investment since you’re still lowering your reliance on the grid, but you certainly won’t make a profit in these cases.

For a hypothetical case wherein you’re paying $0.10 per kWh from the grid, a 10 kW turbine delivering a minimum 2000 kW a month would save you $200 on your monthly energy bill. Assuming this happens year after year, it’ll take a bit over a decade for your system to pay for itself. These are, however, ideal conditions that give a positive answer to the question of how much does a wind turbine cost. Remember that this might not be the case in practice.

2. Wind Turbine Costs for Commercial Use

Typically, commercial systems tend to pull their weight faster and better than domestic ones. The main reason for this is that HAWT models are used for this farm. Statistically speaking, HAWTs are both more efficient and more likely to generate a steady supply of electricity. Their height gives them the possibility to harness high velocity, high altitude winds that tend to be more powerful and frequent, whereas their efficiency is nothing short of outstanding. The windmill costs of a system that’s capable of delivering 55 kW will cash in at about $200,000, while 1 MW will need anywhere from $1 to $2 million to purchase and install.

On the bright side, the majority of these frameworks are designed to break even on their investment under two decades, with a great deal of them covering their initial cost in 10 years or less. The question is whether your business uses electricity to such an extent that switching to wind energy is worth the bother. Food processing, chemical, oil, and metal refining industries are all energy-intensive, making it all the more likely that organizations operating in these domains will benefit from the investment better and faster than most companies will.

For a more accurate estimate, you need to factor in your particular conditions. Both for domestic and commercial uses, governments offer significant tax rebates which can lower up-front costs by as much as 20%. Afterward, it is important to also factor maintenance in your wind turbine costs. The bigger the system, the harder it is to maintain.

Make Money from Wind

Make Money from Wind

Both for rural and urban environments, wind energy is a powerful source of electricity that we are yet to fully harness. Whether it’s efficient to use for your particular circumstances must be ascertained by performing cost analysis.

First, you should find out the local price for 1 kW, then calculate how much you need per day/month. Using average wind speeds for where the system would be installed, you can achieve a more realistic windmill cost. Answering the question of how much does a wind turbine cost is not an easy endeavor, but it can be a highly rewarding one.

Most developing and almost all developed countries have tax rebate schemes where both companies and households can benefit from substantial incentives when making the switch to a renewable source of energy, be it wind or solar. Furthermore, the sooner you make this transition, the better it is for the environment. Our climate has suffered greatly at the expense of pollution-heavy industries such as coal or fracking. The greenhouse effect is causing ripple aftermath in the natural habitat that spans from the North all the way to the South Pole and everywhere in-between.

In this article, we have estimated wind turbine costs for the most popular models and installation circumstances. Because there continues to be insufficient data on a global scale, it’s up to each consumer or business to calculate exact windmill costs and compute whether this transition would benefit them as much as it helps prevent further climate change.

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