Wind energy in the U.S. leapt 45 percent in 2007, adding $9 billion to the economy, according to a study by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). In a recent interview AWEA executive director Randy Swisher told Plenty that at least 20% of the United States’ energy needs could be met by wind by 2030. Sounds breezy, but as a practical matter, can we really tap the wind for our daily energy needs? Well, maybe. 

A lot depends on where you live.  You might be able to install a "Small Wind" system for your own home,  but first, check out the useful homeowner's guide from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Questions to address: 

Is there enough prevailing wind where you live? While 13 mph may not sound like a lot, it's actually pretty brisk. Just ask a surfer.

What are your local zoning regulations? Noise and height limits are common issues.

Do you have enough space to whip up enough energy for your needs? Generally, one acre is the minimum for the classic horizontal-blade tower turbine, although the newer, elegant, vertical blade "egg-beater" models would be ideal for city rooftops if the neighbors didn't squawk.

Possibilities include the Mag-Wind System, a roof-mounted wind turbine designed for a single-family dwelling that generates 1,100  to 2,200 kilowatt hours per month, depending on the model, in an average 13 mile per hour wind. According to AWEA, the average American household uses 10,655 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. Allowing for days the wind doesn’t blow, you could still come close to generating your own electricity with a personal turbine.

That said, the current price tag for a home wind turbine is steep, between $6,000 and $22,000 depending on size, installation, and distributor. All of which helps explain why, at present, there are only 4,000 such private residential windmillsnationwide.

However, AWEA says that you’ll recoup your investment in 6 to 15 years, and after that, heck, you’re getting free electricity! A list of distributors by state is available at Enviro Energies, and Canadians can find turbines at Niagara WindPower. The AWEA also has a list of distributors and manufacturers.

Another option: If you don’t want to or can’t afford to install a home turbine, you may be able to buy power generated by wind and other renewable green energy sources from your utility in lieu of conventional coal power, depending on where you live. The US Department of Energy says that more than 50 percent of consumers now have the option of buying green power directly from their energy supplier.

Looking ahead:  World-famous designer Philippe Starck is developing a new plastic-bladed turbine that he says can produce 80 percent of a home’s electricity. The price will be right, too: between $780 and $1,250, if and when it hits American markets.

Bottom line? You don’t necessarily have to wait for a wind farm to go up in your neck of the woods if you want to take advantage of the autumn breeze. If you can't (yet) install your own wind turbine or buy wind energy from your utility, you can always go outdoors and fly a kite.

For ideas on making your own, click here.  One way or another, we’re psyched to try and catch the wind.

Story by Mindy Pennybacker. This article originally appeared in 'Plenty" in September 2008. 

Copyright Environ Press 2008