If you thought that wind turbines were too noisy, bulky, expensive, or unreliable in low winds, we want to tell you about a new product that could dispel those worries. At this year's LightFair convention in Las Vegas, we spotted a truly remarkable alternative energy product developed by the Michigan-based company Windtronics for Honeywell. The WT6500 Wind Turbine is one of the best examples of wind power generators for residential, small business, and commercial applications. Just like many of us, I have my reservations about whether owning a wind turbine is practical for city life, so I caught the ear of Kevin Youngquist from Windtronics to for more details -- read on for our exclusive interview!
Kevin talked about one of the biggest concerns for those interested in turbines: “What if I don’t have a lot of wind?” Most wind turbines of this capacity require 7 to 8 mph winds to overcome the resistance of the gears. A conventional turbine uses the wind to move blades that turn gears to power a generator, whereas the Honeywell Turbine eliminates the separate generator and the gearing.
Instead of spinning gears, the Honeywell Turbine uses a patent pending magnetic technology to generate energy. Each blade has a magnet at the tip, so as they spin, they pass by coiled copper. Essentially, the entire turbine becomes the generator, and it only needs winds of 2 mph to get it spinning. Kevin even had it running with just the air blown from a tiny desktop fan. The wheel is also mounted so it turns freely with a use of side fins. This means that it can rotate easily so it will always be in the direction of the wind path. This video gives a quick look at how it works.
It is also worth mentioning that the turbine is quiet — it only emits 35db, which is about the same level of ambient noise found in a library. When I was standing next to it talking to Kevin, you could not hear it at all amongst the noise of the trade show goers.
The next biggest question is cost. The unit will retail for $6,495, but there are currently many federal and state rebate programs that will give you back 30% or more of the cost for the unit and installation. In class 4 winds zones, like the area here in Chicago, the turbine will produce over 2700 kWh annually. This would equal out to about 20% of the energy used in the average single family home. You can find out what the wind speeds are like in your area using the EPA’s wind maps.
The national average price for residential energy is around $0.11 per kWh, but it can be up to $0.27 in some places. Some electric companies do offer wind energy programs that typically charge 2 or 3 cents more per kWh. The math comes out to savings that starts at around $350. If you live in an area where prices for kWh are much higher, like New York or Hawaii, then that savings could be over $700 annually. Considering additional operating costs, it is expected that it might take about 10 years for the unit to pay for itself. That may seem like a long time, but it highly competitive compared with other wind and solar energy generators. The calculator at WindEstimator.com can help you understand the costs for your specific geographic area.
If you live in an area with extreme weather, you may be concerned about the turbine standing up to strong winds. The turbine has been tested to operate in wind gusts up to 90mph, and it is made primarily from UV-resistant nylon and anodized aluminum in order to withstand the elements. Kevin told me about how they have tested the turbines in wind tunnels and also outside in a Wisconsin winter, which can drop many feet of snow. He also explained how there is a sensing control, called the Smart Box, inside the turbine that turns on a braking system when the blades are going too fast. The 6ft diameter unit can be mounted to a pole, or directly to the roof by a professional installer. The total weight is only 170lbs, so it should not pose structural concerns.
I asked Kevin about birds, as there are reports that some wind turbines can cause unnatural avian deaths, since the blades spin so fast that they appear transparent. The Honeywell Turbine has considered this by using dark colors and enclosing the blades in a framed system so that it will be more easily seen and avoided.
Servicing and maintenance represent another area of concern, so I asked Kevin for more details. Since the turbine has been designed to withstand high wind and extreme weather, it is rugged and needs very little maintenance. The only part that is likely to need replacing is a bearing, which could be changed every few years. That sure beats my outdated fuel burner, which requires service at least annually.
For full disclosure, I had actually seen this product on display at my local Best Buy Store’s Green Zone here in Chicago last month. I was in awe of the clean lined frame and finned design, but until talking with Kevin from Windtronics, I did not fully understand the innovation, and I had also assumed that it would be way out of my budget. I was impressed at the initiatives from Best Buy to offer green consumer tech, and it felt for a minute like I was a kid in a candy store among all the cool eco products.
The Chicago area stores are currently flagships for the sale of upcycled consumer goods, solar panels, and electric bicycles, but we will probably see this trend expands to other stores in the nation. If you are in Chicago, you can go see The Honeywell Wind Turbine in action, and it will be available for sale in August 2010. It will also be available through Ace Hardware stores and other dealers.