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Why Not Put a Wind Turbine on Your Roof?

Wind turbines are cool. The might not be able to replace all the coal power plants in the world, but they're a great example of how old concepts and new technology can be put together like peanut butter and jelly to become a delicious source of power. Mag Wind MW1100They're also a great example of the sort of positive environmentalism that sees efficiency and economic growth as two sides of the same coin. I would go so far as to say that most of the various groups opposing wind farms around the country are really lame. But what if I wanted to join in on the blade-spinning fun, instead of just blathering on and on about it on the Internet? There's a cool-looking rooftop vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT) from a company called Mag-Wind that looked really promising when I first saw it late last year. It's compact, doesn't require a tall mast, and it's designed specifically for roofs. Unfortunately, it might not be on the up-and-up. Paul Gipe at ran some numbers and he doesn't think the power output they are claiming is possible. There's also some talk of a fake Mag-Wind dealer (not actually authorized by the company) taking a whole bunch of people's money in North Dakota. More interesting discussion can be found at Treehugger. This is unfortunate because I had dreamed up a plan to put one of these guys on top of my roof any then buy a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt. Charging a battery at night is already cheaper than buying gas according to Prius conversions. I'm just the kind of geek who goes out and spends money on sort of thing. Now it is possible that the calculations are off, because no one seems to have been able to make any independent measurements yet. Maybe the assumptions are wrong - for example, when they say 1100 kWh/month in a 13 mph average wind, maybe they are talking about the wind measured in a clear area away from buildings, like you see on the weather report. Because of the "roof effect" the wind actually hitting the turbine would be more than 13 mph. Also, this isn't a completely fictional company, their representatives and distributors have contacted bloggers and other writers here and there. So I guess I'll hold out a little hope and keep an eye out for something to materialize from these guys. In the mean time, anyone have a recommendation for a roof-mounted wind turbine that definitely exists? Maybe the WindCube (man that is cheesy-sounding bad name)? Oh, and here's some footage of various wind turbines in action in Taiwan. Not too exciting, but it shows that some people have working VAWTs up and running. [youtube]n0_lmtfwUYg[/youtube]

People who oppose wind turbines are lame

I'm a big fan of wind power. No, it's not a magical solution to all energy problems. Wind turbines are a worthwhile component of a cleaner, more efficient energy grid.

As large-scale wind turbines become more popular, cost is going down and efficiency is going up. As far as I can tell, the main argument against the big windmills is that they despoil the landscape. It turns out they don't really kill that many birds.

After seeing a few in action in Mackinaw, Michigan and on a trip to New York, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. They're actually pretty graceful – the new ones are so large that they don't need to spin like a propeller to generate a lot of power.

In any event, if the biggest problem is a matter of personal aesthetics, wind has a leg up on, for example, burning coal. So to those opposing the turbines, I have to say the argument against is pretty lame.

I've toyed with the idea of installing solar panels on my roof, but at my latitude, it's hard to justify. But what about installing a personal wind turbine? Rather than a familiar windmill-style turbine, a vertical axis wind turbine might just do the trick.

It looks like it's possible to build a small one, but I'm not sure how well the design (or my skill) would scale. I did run across a company called Mag-Wind that produces a really cool looking rooftop mounted vertical turbine . In addition to the advantages of vertical turbines, they claim that situating it on the ridge of a pitched roof offers additional benefits.

I'm not really sure I can buy one, though. The only dealer I can find is on Ontario, Canada. Maybe I'll drop them an email. I would be a little less skeptical if their site has photos of a working installation.

There are a lot of companies out there selling personal, home-sized or farm-sized wind turbines. I guess I'll have to do some more looking, and then a bunch of angry math to see if it's affordable—I'm not as worried about making a profit in the long term as I am being able to afford such a cool tech toy in the first place.

Of course, we could always cover the world's deserts with solar panels.