Horizontal vs. vertical axis wind turbines

My recent article on how wind turbines work spurred me on to research a little more on the subject; and while I had previously discounted wind turbines for my electricity needs,  I’ve been reconsidering it as an option.

I admire wind technology as an alternative to carbon dioxide spewing means of generating electricity,  but there were a few issues that had me settled on solar power; being:

– Aesthetics. Windmill type wind turbines are somewhat ugly in my opinion (but nowhere near as ugly as a coal fired power station).

– Danger to bird life. I love birds and it seems that birds are known to fly into turbine blades. Although it’s infrequent; one bird dead is too many if it’s avoidable.

– Noise. I’ve had my fill of man-made noise living in a city; my new green life I want to be filled with the sounds of nature. Even the wooshing of the blades would probably drive me nuts after a while.

– Maintenance and cost. Wind turbines certainly require more maintenance than solar panels. Anything with moving parts wears out; and wind turbines are based on moving componentry.

– Wind speed required. The area where I’ll  be isn’t known for high winds.

As I touched on in my first article on turbines; there are two main types – horizontal-axis (HAWTs), which is the traditional windmill type setup, but there are also vertical-axis (VAWT) wind turbines.

Horizontal and Vertical Axis Wind Turbines
Vertical (left) & horizontal (right) axis wind turbine models for home use
Image courtesy Energy Matters Australia – Wind Turbine Specialists

While horizontal wind turbines have improved efficiency dramatically in recent years, have come down in price, require less wind for operation and are much quieter, it’s the vertical turbines that have really grabbed my interest.

Vertical axis turbines until recently were as ugly as their horizontal axis counterparts and not as efficient; but that appears to have changed with newer models hitting the market. According to manufacturers, the benefits of a vertical axis wind turbine such as the design above over horizontal axis designs include:

  • can be used in suburban settings
  • lower profile for use on rooftops more aesthetically pleasing; but I guess this is a matter for personal taste.
  • may not be subject to the number of regulations of their horizontal counterparts
  • lower noise
  • next to no vibration
  • operate effectively with wind coming from any direction
  • shorter towers mean less cost and fewer materials
  • lower maintenance and repair cost as there are fewer moving parts
  • easily visible to wildlife. When spinning or at rest, they appear as a solid object
  • self regulating spin speeds in high wind events
  • produce energy at lower wind speeds

One possible disadvantage is in relation to the fact they don’t require a tall tower as wind speeds can be less at ground level. Simple solution – build the tower you were going to need anyway if you were set on using wind power.

I think I’d much prefer seeing the vertical axis wind turbines dotting the landscape. If you’re considering implementing a wind turbine soon, this is perhaps an option well worth looking into. Don’t forget to check out renewable energy rebates available to you as these incentives can greatly decrease the cost!