Small wind turbines aim for your backyard
It looks like an abstract sculpture or
metallic lawn art, and its promoters say that installing several can
turn an ordinary backyard into a wind garden.
advocates in this state say the Windspire, a power turbine that spins
in an upright position in a confined space, could represent a major
breakthrough for wind energy. Instead of using towers 100 feet tall or
higher for conventional windmills, the Windspire is just 30 feet tall.
energy has long been a nonstarter in this state because the best wind
speeds are found in ecologically sensitive areas: Appalachian ridge
tops and pristine coastlines. Today in Raleigh, a Senate committee of
the General Assembly is scheduled to debate a proposal to ban
commercial wind power development in the mountains.
The state’s midsection isn’t
windy enough to justify harnessing wind on a commercial scale. But for
those who just want to supplement their power supply, one potential
solution is the Windspire, with its comparatively low price tag and a
design that works on office rooftops and in suburban open spaces.
mechanism can be seen on the N.C. State University campus, where one of
three Windspires in the state converts wafting Carolina breezes into
electrons. Executives with Blue Sun Renewable Energy in Washington,
N.C., the turbine’s mid-Atlantic distributors, say several more
Windspires could be installed in the state in the coming months.
have to look at this as one of the first entries into the renewable
energy market that’s completely affordable for ordinary people,” said
Jeremy Peang-Meth, a Blue Sun partner.
A Windspire unit costs
$6,500. Installation can add another $4,000 and requires building a
cement foundation for the 624-pound apparatus. In North Carolina,
however, the cost of the unit is marked down by more than half if the
buyer takes advantage of federal and state tax incentives for green
There are other small wind turbines on the market, but
the Windspire has enjoyed a promotional boost since being featured on
episodes of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “20/20” in
recent months. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in the Outer Banks
and Lem’s Auto Sales and Motor Sports in Shelby, west of Charlotte, are
both considering installing one. Windspire units already are generating
power at a sustainable community under development by Blue Sun near
Edenton and at a private home in Jamesville, east of Rocky Mount.
questions remain about its long-term prospects. The National Renewable
Energy Laboratory in Colorado stopped a test of a Windspire last year
after the turbine broke apart when welded areas failed.
Power in Nevada, the company behind the Windspire, said it has fixed
all the defects in the prototype that was tested by NREL and the
Windspire hasn’t experienced problems since. According to Blue Sun,
more than 200 units are in use around the country, including the U.S.
Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., and, the Marin County Convention
Center in California.
Brian Miles, a wind energy extension
specialist at the N.C. State’s Solar Center, said that pending further
tests, the Windspire is “not quite ready for prime time” but
nevertheless looks promising.
“The big thing going for this one,
quite honestly, is they’ve been diligent about doing third-party
verification,” Miles said. “A lot of these products make outlandish
claims, or even normal claims, that are totally unverified.”
A bite out of your bill
to Mariah Power, the 1.2-kilowatt Windspire can cut household energy
use by 25 percent in an area where wind speeds average 12 mph. The
average wind speed in Raleigh is about 9 mph, which means that the
Windspire would likely provide between 5 percent and 10 percent of a
typical household’s energy in this area, Miles said. But the results
will depend on wind factors, which can vary across the state, and even
from one end of a county to another.
The Windspire’s energy potential in Raleigh is about to be put to a test.
NCSU has had its unit since April and will begin measuring power output soon.
officials at the planned Centennial Science Center at NCSU expect to
install four Windspire units for testing on the roof of the building
when construction is completed next year. Ewan Pritchard, program
director at the university’s Advanced Transportation Energy Center, is
reviewing the Windspire for the building and says that so far it looks
like the most promising small-scale wind turbine, especially for areas
like Raleigh that have poor wind resources.
The other selling
point of the Windspire is that it’s virtually noiseless. George Bates
had two installed in his Chesapeake, Va., home last month, and he says
they are inaudible. “It’s just an incredible piece of equipment,” Bates
Jeff Cooper had a Windspire installed this month at his home in Jamesville.
“If it does away with even one light bill a year, that’s great,” Cooper said.