Installing a wind turbine Pros and cons of wind power

A wind farm

Wind turbines harness natural wind power to produce electricity

Wind power is plentiful and renewable, and reduces carbon emissions when used instead of electricity generated from fossil fuels. 

Wind turbines produce electricity by harnessing the natural power of the wind to drive a generator.

Wind-derived electrical power comes from two main sources – domestic small-scale wind turbines installed by home owners (often also called micro wind turbines), and industrial wind farms. 

Read on to find about the pros and cons of wind turbines and wind power, and discover whether a wind turbine is suitable for your home.

Home wind turbines

Home wind turbines are small turbines and there are two sorts. Wind turbines that can fit on roofs, and those that are are mounted on a pole and can be placed, free-standing, in a garden or field.

  • building-mounted wind turbines can be installed on the roof of a house and are around 1kW to 2kW in size
  • pole-mounted wind turbines are often about 5kW to 6kW.

The UK's largest study of domestic wind turbines, conducted by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) in 2009, found that very few areas of the UK are suitable for a home wind turbine. 

If you'd like to produce your own electricity, solar panels may well be a better bet. Our guide to installing solar panels explains what types of homes are suitable and how much solar panels cost.

To see if your home is suitable for a wind turbine, the EST recommends you should first install an anemometer (wind gauge) and monitor it for at least three months to determine the average wind speed. According to the EST, a suitable site should have a minimum average wind speed of 6m/s – the vast majority of UK households have an average wind speed of less than this.

If your location is suitable for a wind turbine and you decide to go ahead and install one, you could earn money from it through the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) scheme. Available since 1 April 2010, the FIT pays you for the electricity you generate, whether you use it at home or export it to the grid.

See our dedicated section on home wind turbines to find out more.

a wind farm at sunset

Wind energy is plentiful, renewable and leaves no waste products

Wind farms

Wind farms can be built either onshore or offshore. 

According to wind and marine industry trade body RenewableUK, as of May 2015, the UK had over 6,000 wind turbines. That's a capacity of about 30,000,000 megawatt hours of electricity to be produced per year, equivalent to powering about seven million homes.

The London Array offshore wind farm, off the Kent coastline, is the largest in the world. It is has 175 turbines capable of generating enough energy to power half a million UK homes. 

Find out home about large-scale wind energy in our guide to wind farms.

Advantages of wind power

  • electricity generated by the wind does not emit CO2 or leave any waste. Wind is also an infinite resource that cannot be exhausted
  • a small home wind turbine – when installed properly and in the right location – can cut your reliance on traditional fossil fuel resources
  • if you install a home wind turbine, you can earn money through the FIT for every kilowatt of electricity you produce
  • wind turbines rely on simple mechanical processes. Once the wind turbine is up and running, there are few running costs
  • large-scale wind farms can be built at sea to exploit the UK's abundant off-shore wind flow without cluttering the landscape

Disadvantages of wind power

  • the EST has concluded that fewer sites than previously thought are suitable for wind technology
  • both small and large-scale wind energy installations may require planning permission – contact your council before you start work
  • wind turbine costs are high. A small 1kW roof-mounted turbine can cost up to £3,000
  • while domestic wind turbines require little maintenance, the inverter is likely to need replacing during the lifetime of the turbine, at a cost of about £1,000
  • the amount of electricity generated is dependent on the speed and direction of the wind. The wind speed itself depends on a number of factors, such as location within the UK, height of the turbine and whether there are any nearby obstructions
  • many people dislike the appearance and sound of wind turbines in the landscape, although noise pollution is less significant for micro-wind turbines
  • anti-wind farm groups argue that wind farms damage habitats and harm birds and marine ecology
  • wind is an unpredictable energy source and requires the backup of more traditional and polluting methods of energy generation

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