How do wind turbines work?

Put very simply, the blades of the turbine catch the wind. The wind blows the blades, and this movement spins the turbine, generating electricity. The stronger the wind that is blowing, the more electricity is produced.

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Technical information made simple

There are two types of domestic-sized wind turbine:

Mast mounted: these are free standing and can be put up in exposed positions such as in a large garden or nearby field, but you need to have the space. They have a capacity of around 2.5kW to 6kW.

Roof mounted: these have a smaller capacity than most mast mounted systems, typically around 1kW to 2kW. They are usually installed on the roof of a home if it is sufficiently exposed to the wind.

The capacity of a micro-wind turbine is described in kW, though this isn’t as accurate as it could be because different turbines reach their described capacity at different wind speeds. Because of this, the BWEA (British Wind Energy Association) Reference Annual Energy is also used to provide a measure of the energy performance of a turbine. There is also the BWEA Reference Sound Level describes the level of noise the turbine produces as heard from 25 and 60m away, rounded to the nearest decibel.

  1. When the wind blows over a micro wind turbine it turns the turbine’s blades. This motion turns the rotating shaft the blades are connected to. This shaft, in turn, sits inside a generator. The part of the shaft inside the generator is surrounded by a magnetic field, meaning that when the shaft turns it generates electricity. Smaller turbines’ blades can be attached directly to a generator.
  2. The turbine produces DC electricity. This electricity flows through an inverter, which sits between the turbine and your home’s electrical wiring. The inverter converts your DC electricity into AC electricity, and this electricity can then be used to power the lighting and appliances in your home.
  3. You have a choice as to whether you connect your turbine to the Grid. If you do, you can qualify to receive FIT payments for the electricity you generate and the surplus electricity you export to the grid. However, if you live in a rural location remaining off the Grid may be useful as you can then store your surplus electricity in batteries to use when the supply from your turbine is low, allowing you to be less reliant on electricity from the Grid.
  4. If you connect your turbine to the grid, any electricity that you generate but don’t use is automatically exported back to the grid. Similarly, any electricity you need to use from the grid is automatically supplied, for which you will be charged, though you will make a saving on your electricity bill overall.

The FIT scheme is a government backed scheme designed to reduce the payback time for renewable technology installations. If you qualify, it pays you per unit of electricity generated, regardless of whether you use it, and for every unit generated and then exported. These payments are made according to tariff rates which are set when you sign up, and the rates are linked to the RPI too. Under current rules, you will receive these payments for 20 years. Current tariff rates for a standard (1.5-15kW) installation are 21.65p/kWh, and the export rate is 4.64p/kWh. A typical, well sited mast mounted turbine could make £160 a year from the Export Tariff and £2,700 a year from the Generation Tariff. For more information visit our FIT page.

You can get the cost of the installation paid for you using a loan from the Green Deal scheme. Another government-backed initiative, it collects your loan repayments through the savings your system makes on your energy bill, making the installation in effect free to you. Visit our Green Deal page for more information on the scheme.

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Installation

If you are planning to install a domestic wind turbine it is recommended that your location is exposed to an average wind speed of 5 meters per second to make the turbine a worthwhile investment. You can test the wind speed of your location (or even test multiple locations) using an anemometer, which should be placed in your location for at least 3 months but ideally 12 months.

In order to qualify for the Feed-in-Tariff the turbine must be fitted by a MCS accredited installer. Find out more about the Installation of Wind Turbines here.

 

FAQs

Will a wind turbine work if I live in a built up area?
The industry tends not to recommend that a domestic wind turbine is installed in an urban environment for a number of reasons, including: increased turbulence, resulting in higher stresses on the turbine and lower energy capture for any given wind speed; increased margins of safety required when more people are living and working near the turbine; additional measures possibly required to limit the transmission of vibrations into the structure of the building and lower average wind speeds in a city environment reduce the annual energy capture.
Do I need to own a field to have a wind turbine?
It depends on whether you're considering a roof mounted or pole-mounted (freestanding) system. Pole-mounted turbines do tend to work best in exposed locations such as fields, as they tend to experience less turbulence caused by obstacles such as buildings and trees. The ideal location for a freestanding wind turbine is at the top of a gentle slope.
What maintenance or servicing is required for a wind turbine?
You should get your turbine checked by your installer or another accredited technician every year, which should cost between £100 and £200. Your inverter may need to be replaced once during the turbine's 20 year lifetime - this costs between £1000-£2000 for a large freestanding system. Turbines with batteries (off-grid systems) will need their batteries replaced every 6-10 years.
Can I connect my wind turbine to the grid?
Most areas of the UK are connected to the Grid, and if you are, you can connect your turbine to it too. This will allow you to qualify for the Export Tariff as part of the Feed-in-Tariff scheme, which pays you acsecond payment on top of the Generation Tariff for any electricity that you generate but don't use. The surplus electricity is automatically exported to Grid.
Can an installed wind turbine be re-sited?
Yes, provided the new site is suitable. However, substantial costs will be incurred to dismantle the turbine, transport it to the new site and re-install it, so ideally in the first place you should spend time selecting the most suitable site before you install it for the first time. If you do need to re-site the turbine, make sure you get multiple quotes from accredited installers for the moving work.
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