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Choose solar panels for residential power




Having been involved in the field of wind energy and solar energy for the past 30 years, particularly residential wind turbines and solar-powered water pumping, I feel compelled to clear up Roy Berger’s misconceptions about wind power (“Wind-powered generators make sense,” Dec. 17), even though I probably won’t be gain any local customers by doing so.

First, what makes the aerodynamic noise on wind turbines is actually the blade tips traveling though the air at high speeds, which on some machines can produce a whooshing noise. Most large turbines produce gear and electrical whine from the drive train but still, with all noise sources combined, the actual measured sound at 100 meters from a tower base is usually no greater than the level of typical background street noise. Large numbers of turbines, as in wind farms, do produce noise some people object to. The type of turbine used by all commercial wind farm companies is the Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT).

Second, saying that solar modules (photovoltaic panels) will “never pay for themselves” is not true. PV modules will pay for the energy used in their production in three to seven years, depending on the cost of energy replaced by their use. Though residential PV systems tied to the electrical grid do require substantial incentives to justify their installation, when used in distributed-generation applications, they can be very useful in contributing to total life-cycle carbon offsets. On the other hand, such large-scale PV installations, as the one proposed for the Carrizo Plains, consume vastly more land per Watt of generated energy than does appropriate wind-power technology in a good wind resource area, which is why wind farming is so popular and why large solar arrays can be so controversial. A 3.5-MW wind turbine occupies about 20 by 20 feet of ground space, but many acres are required to achieve the same output from a PV array.

 Third, “eggbeater” wind turbines, correctly known as Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT) are not the right example to use in a cost or efficiency comparison with PV technology because VAWTs are considerably less efficient and less cost-effective than HAWT machines. 

 Fourth, it takes wind for a wind turbine to work. Most of the Central Coast is not suitable for wind turbines because the average wind speed and wind profile is insufficient. Generally speaking, if you live on less than 3/4 acre of land, in the built environment, you should go solar. 

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