SPUR’s report Critical Cooling recommends 42 options for reducing local carbon emissions. This is one of them. To learn about all 42 ideas, read the full report

Expand Small-Scale Wind Generation

One of 42 options for reducing local carbon emissions, from our report Critical Cooling

Urbanist Article
Annual savings potential:
Annual public cost:
Public cost per ton:
Implementing agency:
Horizon year:
200 tons
$3 million
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission


  • Small wind turbines have a life cycle of 20 years
  • The cost of $3 million was chosen as the cost, to match the City’s level of investment in solar power. An estimated incentive of $5,000 is assumed to accompany each installation.


Small-scale wind power generation is an emerging technology that does not yet enjoy the popularity or the cost-effectiveness of solar power. Although 570 additional wind installations could be created with a $3 million program similar to GoSolarSF invested in wind, the wind resource in San Francisco is less predictable and overall less productive than solar. There are only half a dozen small-scale wind installations in San Francisco today, and while it would be possible to explore further testing of the availability of the wind resource and innovative technologies to capture it, today wind isnot a cost-effective way to significantly reduce emissions.

What we do now
Small-scale wind generation is a resource of untapped potential in San Francisco. There are only a half dozen installations of small wind turbines scattered throughout the city. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is studying San Francisco’s wind resource, through a number of wind monitoring stations located throughout the city, and exploring opportunities to provide incentives for more urban wind development. The mayor convened the Urban Wind Power Task Forcein July 2008 to study the issue and make recommendations on how to encourage more wind power generation. The mayor also issued a directive to the Department of Building Inspection and the Planning Department to expedite permitting and limit costs to create as many wind facilities as residents and businesses would like to put up. The directive also ordered City departments to make every effort to include wind turbines in the design of City facilities whenever possible.

What we could do
While the task force recommendations have not been issued, one option for San Francisco is to provide incentives for wind turbines similar to our solar incentive program.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the average cost of a small or residential wind turbine is $3,000 to $5,000 per installed kilowatt of generating capacity. Small wind turbines typically last about 20 years. In San Francisco, a 3 kW wind turbine might be expected to generate 1,185 kilowatt hours per year.1 We estimate a $3million yearly savingsfrom a wind incentive program investment at the same level as the current solar incentive program. After subtracting yearly administrative costs of $150,000, an incentive level of $5,000 would result in an additional 570 wind turbine installations, with 1710 kW capacity. The cost per kilowatt-hour generated is $4.44.

Carbon savings potential
The cost per ton of carbon saved from a wind incentive program is $934.

1 According to the calculator at www.chooserenewables.com, based on data from the National Renewable Energy Lab.