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Is your own wind turbine a good alternative to solar panels?

No. In Belgium, and in Brussels in particular, it is better to produce renewable electricity with solar panels than invest in a wind turbine.

Before the large-scale appearance of solar panels, and especially the fall in their price (they now cost only a third or a quarter of what they used to), the future of private wind turbines for individuals seemed promising, but this enthusiasm has now waned. Here's why.

Small wind turbines: uncertain return

1. Too little wind in Belgium for small wind turbines

Small wind turbines for private customers are only a good idea when the wind is strong enough locally. And this is where the problem lies. The amount of wind at 10-15 metres height (the maximum axis height allowed for these wind turbines) is quite limited in Belgium, hence low cost-effectiveness.

In Belgium, the average wind speed can vary between 6 to 7 m/s at the coast and only 2 to 4 m/s in Upper Belgium (source: IRM’s website). This is not enough. In addition, most wind turbines stop producing electricity when the wind is less than 3 m/s.

2. Private wind turbines do not produce enough electricity

Tests with small wind turbines in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have shown that actual production was 15 to 17 times lower than the maximum capacity claimed by manufacturers.

3. Hard to get planning permission in Brussels for a wind turbine

Planning permission is required for each wind turbine and it isn’t easy to get. The decision is up to the local authority and there is no clear directive.

In addition, the proximity of the airport can make it difficult to obtain permission.

Can we have small wind turbines in Brussels?

In the Brussels-Capital Region, placing small wind turbines at low altitude beside private homes is not ideal. Their estimated potential is low, due to the presence of neighbouring buildings, and wind turbulence in urban areas which affects their energy-producing quality. The wind strength in cities is lower than in agricultural areas, which also limits its potential.

On the other hand, on high tower-blocks, the performance of small- and medium-capacity wind turbines seems theoretically promising. This is the result of a wind measurement study conducted at various locations in the Region (see “ Le potentiel de l’éolien urbain à Bruxelles” on the Bruxelles Environment website).

Solar panels are more cost-effective

Compared to solar panels, wind turbines can produce electricity night and day, all year round, even in winter. Solar and wind energy are therefore, in theory, complementary.

But in practice, it is mostly large wind turbines that are cost-effective. For individuals, solar panels are much more cost-effective.

No need for planning permission

Installing photovoltaic panels has been made easier in the three regions of the country by simplifying administrative procedures. Planning permission is not required if the panels are placed on the roof.

No need for a garden or yard

Unlike wind turbines, solar panels do not require open ground around a mast. An unshaded roof is all you need.

Installation costs down

The installation cost for panels has dropped dramatically over the last few years, which is not the case for wind turbines. 

30-year life span

A solar power installation can produce electricity for over 30 years, with no maintenance other than cleaning or replacing the inverter on average every 12 years.

It does not have any moving parts to wear out, unlike wind turbines, where the mechanism can become worn or break. Even so, unless it suffers an accident, a wind turbine can operate for between 20 and 25 years.

See also: 'How do I invest in the production of green energy?' 

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