Wind Turbines For Off Grid Radio: Pros and Cons.

The unloved child.

Lots of hams are very successful with solar. It seems to be the “go to” off grid power source. I don’t have firm numbers, but anecdotally it appears solar is more popular than even gas generators. Of course, solar is not the only game in town. Wind turbines, the “forgotten stepchild” of off grid power, deserves more attention.

Wind mills vs.wind turbines.

A wind mill is a device that turns wind into mechanical energy to perform a specific task. The tasks can vary, such a sawing wood, pumping water, grinding grain, etc.

A wind turbine turns wind into mechanical energy for generating electricity.

Many hams and even some industry professionals will use the two terms interchangeably. Technically, that’s incorrect but in the interest of not being overly pedantic we’ll roll with it.

wind energyWhat’s wrong with wind power?

That’s a trick question. There’s nothing “wrong” with wind power. But clearly, it’s not as widely used as solar, at least not by radio amateurs. To better understand wind power, it helps to know why it’s not popular.

I consistently hear the same two concerns about wind power: expense, and power output. Wind power is expensive compared to solar. Yes, Amazon has cheap wind turbines comparably priced to solar. But as you may guess, you get what you pay for.

It works like this: You can usually get away with a cheap solar panel, but you’ll never get away with a cheap wind turbine. That is, if you need something long lasting and dependable. If you’re just casually dabbling in wind, or you want something to use once a year on Field Day, or for a kids science project, by all means hop on Amazon and fix yourself up with a bargain bin unit. For these purposes it makes sense to cut corners and save a lot of bucks.

But dedicated preppers, survivalists, EMCOMM folks, and anyone who needs/wants a high build quality and long service life should expect to pay serious money. A “good” home wind turbine can run over $1000 USD.

That brings us to the other problem with wind power: Amount of energy yield per dollar spent. A typical home wind turbine will produce 200-400 watts at full capacity, which is not much considering what quality turbines cost.

The same amount of solar power costs less than $500.00 at 2023 prices. All other factors notwithstanding, the dollars-per-watt advantage makes solar a clear winner for most amateurs.

Also consider that wind turbines are mechanical and no matter how well made will at some point break down or require maintenance. Conversely, solar panels are essentially “set and forget” devices with no moving parts. I have thirteen year old panels on my roof that haven’t been touched since their original installation.

It’s not an either-or.

I’m certainly not trying to talk anyone out of using wind power. The ideal off grid power setup would have both wind and solar since they complement each other so well. But it is important to go into this fully informed about the pros and cons of wind energy. Wind power, although worthwhile, requires more attention and costs significantly more money than solar on a dollars-per-watt basis.

AC and DC wind turbines.

Wind turbines come is both AC and DC current versions.

The AC type requires an external rectifier to change the AC to DC to charge batteries and operate radio equipment.

The DC type requires no rectifier. You simply connect the turbine output to a controller, much like you would with solar panels.

Does it really matter which one you use? Well, yes and no. DC wind turbines are more efficient and the easiest to find on the consumer market. On the negative side, DC current will have a lot of loss when sent over long distances. They also typically require a higher minimum wind speed than AC units.

AC wind turbines will begin producing power at a lower minimum speed (as compared to DC) and AC power can be sent long distances with less loss. Off grid hams who choose an AC turbine will also have to install an external rectifier to change the AC to DC for charging batteries and operating equipment.

There are pros and cons to each type; there is no “correct” version. Most radio amateurs go with a DC turbine.

Homebrew wind turbines.

The internet is bursting with videos, articles, and social media pages dedicated to DIY wind power. If you want to “wing it” on your own, you’ll find a lot of valuable information out there.

Attempting a DIY wind project does have some disadvantages. First, these systems usually produce very little power and are prone to breakdowns. The results are highly variable, depending in large part on the builder’s skill and design used. Second, hobbyists tend to use whatever random components they may be able to find (or already have). Replacing these ad-hoc parts could be a problem for future maintenance needs.

On the positive side, there is a lot of personal satisfaction in a DIY project. I have nothing but the highest respect for anyone who bucks the “appliance operator” trend common in ham radio these days and actually makes something. Also, DIY wind turbines are usually low cost, low risk projects. You have little to lose by trying.

Even if it does not work, you don’t have a lot invested and can always use the parts for something else.

Years ago, I attempted a home-brew wind turbine using a car alternator. In the end it did not result in a practical, working device, but it was a great learning experience and I had a lot of fun. I would encourage anyone to try a DIY wind turbine. Success or fail, the journey will be worthwhile.


The Small Wind Certification Council has a wealth of information and reviews for home wind power.

Northern Arizona Wind & Sun is a well established distributor of off grid power products. This is not a sponsored link. I’ve personally done business with them before and had a great experience.

5 thoughts on “Wind Turbines For Off Grid Radio: Pros and Cons.

  1. Randall Krippner

    I looked at wind turbines as well and quickly discarded the idea for all of the reasons you mentioned. The people selling these things never tell you about things like, oh, having them ice up and freezing solid in the winter as snow crystals get into the works, failing bearings, the noise they can generate, etc. These are mechanical devices with lots of bearings, O-ring seals, gears, etc. that tend to fail. And as you said, the cheap ones you can buy online are pretty much junk. If you ignore the phoney 5 star reviews and start to dig for information from people who actually bought these things and tried to use them, none of then work very well. A lot of them don’t work at all, alas.

    The two biggest problems are having enough space to install one, and having enough wind to power it. I might have space to put one in, but I don’t have enough wind here to justify it. You need sustained straight line winds of about 8 – 10 mph at least to get reliable energy production out of one of these small turbines. The only time we get enough wind here to keep one working well is when we have a front move through for a day or two.

    Of course all alternative energy sources have their drawbacks. We’ve moved into a period of cloudy weather here where I’ve only been able to generate power from the solar system for about one day out of the last ten.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      From my research, a 7 mph wind is the absolute minimum needed to expect anything at all from a home wind turbine.

      I don’t have a good place on my property for wind power anyway. I’m hoping to sell this place and move in the next 2-4 years. Maybe next time…

      1. Randall Krippner

        Hope you find something that gives you the room you need. My wife and I were really lucky when we found this place. It had everything we needed, including a good size lot. Plus we got very lucky with our neighbors. They don’t mind seeing oddball antennas and other nonsense popping up in the backyard and nobody’s complained about the solar panels.

        Oh, I should point out that solar panel prices seem to be falling fast, at least in some cases. Signature Solar is running out Hyundai 300W solar panels for about $0.37/watt. Have to buy a full pallet but if a couple of people get together to share the cost that’s a pretty damned good price. I’ve seen deals down to about $0.27/watt for new, name brand panels.

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  3. Tom N1YR

    I have some experience contracting for the installation and maintenance of medium-sized hilltop communications site wind turbines. The maintenance was intense. Environmentalist rules required using short towers, keeping the blades being buffeted by ground turbulence from wind passing through nearby trees. There was a 40-foot height limit (including blade tips) imposed by zoning.

    The rule of thumb is a turbine head should be “in clear air,” standing 50 feet taller than any other object within a 500-foot circle. I’m sure that the extra height would have helped if we could have used it.

    I had failed DC turbines at the sites replaced with high voltage 3-phase AC turbines. Permanent magnets were attached to the blades, and rotated around fixed windings. The only slip-ring electrical contacts were the ones that let the turbine turn to face the wind.

    Battery charge control was via large SCRs in the 3-phase rectifier network following a step-down transformer, using pulse width modulation. After the SCRs turned off after each voltage peak, the SCR turn-on for the next peak could be delayed or cancelled as the battery plant approached or reached target voltage.

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