Most of us want to reduce our carbon footprints but currently most of the alternative energy products are simply unavailable for urban population that lives in metros. But gradually the scenario of alternative energy is changing and manufacturers have started thinking from common person’s point of view. Recently EarthTronics, which is based in Muskegon, Michigan, has developed a wind turbine that can be used by individual homes. EarthTronics also claims that it can operate at speeds as low as 2 miles an hour. Consequently, homeowners this fall will be able to buy a wind turbine at hardware stores that tackles the small wind industry’s bete noire: slow wind. This turbine is named as Honeywell Wind Turbine and it will be distributed through Ace Hardware stores in the U.S. It will be sold for $4,500. WindTronics developed the turbine and licensed the technology to buildings systems giant Honeywell.
The challenges ahead of the company are to design attractive and at the same time affordable small wind turbines. But the greater hurdle is to reduce the weight of the turbine and they should be capable of turning light wind into power. Why are manufacturers trying to combine these properties? Because most of the target consumers are living in urban and suburban settings where trees and buildings could easily block wind. So if the above properties of the wind turbines can be combined then the market size can be quite lucrative for the manufacturers.
The low-speed milestone is achieved by removing the gearbox from the center. The wind power turns the magnets located around the frame to generate power. This design is termed as “direct-drive” generator. The EarthTronics has got rid of the heavy and costly gearbox in the middle. The design reduces the number of components and allows the turbine to start generating power with low wind.
This turbine resembles a fan and will produce 2,000 kilowatt-hours in a year for a home. “We say if a turbine only works between 8 and 25 miles per hour, you have a very limited range of operation,” said Brian Levine, the vice president of business development at WindTronics, a division of EarthTronics. “Our device is rated to address a wider range at the low and high end.”
The wind turbine weighs 95-pound and its diameter is 6 feet. It can easily be installed on rooftops or attached to chimneys, or put on a pole. The company hopes to sell the turbines through Ace Hardware stores. They are not ruling out to sell the turbine through contractors who will also be needed for the installation. Their target consumers are both homeowners and businesses.
People are increasingly becoming aware of alternative forms of energy. Therefore the market size for such products is increasing. This goes well for the surge in demand for the wind turbines too. But it’s still unclear that these small wind turbines are cost-effective enough to be used beyond a niche of green-minded buyers.
Two studies made the observation that people often chose locations that didn’t have sufficient wind or had obstructions that blocked the wind. In most cases, turbine makers rated products assuming a very good wind resource–anywhere from 12 to 25 miles per hour. WindTronics didn’t overlook these facts. That’s why they have generated such turbines that can produce electricity between 2 miles per hour.
Rooftop wind turbine sales represent less than 0.002 percent of the small wind market in the United States. But this figure should not discourage the turbine producers. They should look at the other side of the coin – a vast market still remains untapped. “It’ll start to operate much earlier and get to prime production at the level when other technologies are just starting,” Levine said.
Not only the manufacturers but the federal and state incentives are making small wind systems more attractive too. The federal stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed earlier this year, has lifted a $4,000 cap for consumers and businesses investing in and owning small wind turbines. Now they can get an uncapped 30 percent investment tax credit, allowing people to recoup 30 percent of the installation costs. But purchasing the equipment is still not cheap and maintenance too will be costly. People may complain about aesthetic issues and neighbors too might not find small wind turbines harmonious with their houses.