February 10, 2006 4:00 AM PST

'Micro' wind turbines are coming to town

A handful of start-ups are floating an idea that could change the face of the wind power industry.

Rather than build farms of towering wind turbines in rural areas, some companies are designing "micro," or small-scale, turbines that fit on top of buildings. The idea is to generate electricity from wind in urban or suburban settings.

"We want to integrate these small wind turbines on buildings in plain sight," said Paul Glenney, director of energy initiatives at Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment. "We think this can really communicate the generation of clean electricity."


What's new:
A handful of "micro" wind turbine companies are trying to bring small-scale wind power generation to urban and suburban settings.

Bottom line:
On-building wind turbines are still an emerging technology, but they could fill a viable niche among different products for generating energy.

More stories on clean technologies

In their pitch for the technology, the companies are going beyond satisfying the growing interest in clean forms of energy. AeroVironment, Aerotecture and a handful of other businesses are marketing their turbines not just as power generators, but also as attractive additions to existing structures.

Right now, giant turbines built by the likes of GE Energy and Siemens are still the norm in the wind power industry, and on-building versions are rare. Newcomers are trying different tacks to break into the market. While some such as Clipper Windpower are producing entire devices, others are focusing on providing specific components of a turbine.

"We're tracking over 20 different emerging wind technology companies in our proprietary deals database, and that list keeps growing," said Robert Day, a partner at Expansion Capital Partners which specializes in clean technologies.

Overall, the wind industry is booming, experts said. The American Wind Energy Association said that last year 2,500 megawatts of new generation equipment were installed in 22 states, valued at $3 billion.

Wind architecture
AeroVironment, which is perhaps best known for its unmanned aircraft technologies, has a project under development from its Architectural Wind energy technology division.

The turbines look like large fans in square housings. They are specifically designed for placement on the top of steel-reinforced, flat-roofed commercial buildings such as a warehouse or "big box" retail store like Home Depot, Glenney said.

The turbines can be lined up next to each other to aggregate power generation, and the fans will spin even in a very slow wind of a few miles an hour.

micro wind turbines

The company has set up a few beta sites to test various factors, including its cost-effectiveness, the amount of noise it generates, and the potential impact on birds and bats (the turbines have a grate on both sides).

AeroVironment has not yet decided whether to commercialize the products. But in presentations with potential customers, the company has gotten a good reception, Glenney said. Business owners and municipalities are eager to find sources of clean electricity for a variety of reasons, including concerns over global warming and dependence on oil from unstable parts of the world.

"Lots of companies just want to reduce the footprint that a business leaves" on the planet, Glenney said. "And they want to educate their stakeholders--their customers, their pupils--on these issues."

Chicago-based Aerotecture is taking a similar "architectural" approach to wind power generation, although with a substantially different design.

Invented by University of Illinois professor Bil Becker, the company's Aeroturbine product uses a helix-shaped turbine placed inside of a cylinder. The turbines, which are 10 feet long, can be placed in many positions and take advantage of variable wind, according to the company.

"It's not fussy about gusty or turbulent winds. It's very amenable. It's the microclimate of the building that you have to look at," said Lesleigh Lippitt, co-founder of Aerotecture.

The company, which is in the process of commercializing the product, is negotiating with Chicago city officials over an installation at the Daley Center, which would set Aeroturbines at the top of the 650-foot building, she said. Other placements are under discussion, including underneath San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, Lippitt said.

Other companies building similar micro wind products for urban or suburban areas include Finland's Windside, and the U.K.'s Windsave and Renewable Devices. There's also a product line called Urban Turbines, from Dutch company Ecofys.

Also on the market are several turbine products, such as Southwest Windpower, designed for remote homes or boats.

Mix and match
Expansion Capital's Day said that small-scale wind technologies have a viable role in the bigger picture of power generation.

Placing a 300-foot high turbine in downtown San Francisco is problematic. But distributed, or on-site, electricity generation systems can help customers get around the transmission bottlenecks and reliability problems of the wholesale electricity grid, Day said.

He added that even small-scale turbines are not immune to the challenges that the overall wind industry faces, such as concerns over noise and cost efficiency.

CONTINUED: Not in my backyard…
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Very cool
If everyone just did a little hear and there it will never be perfect but I think overall we can have a very futuristic society that works hopefully.

Only thing about too many wind generators is I am afraid it could mess with wind patterns but I'm not sure. Probably not.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Big companies overcharge
I think it s best to use these as everytime we trust the bigger companies they overcharge and tax.

I wonder if I use one of these there and some solar panels if I could just power my whole house. If we all did this we could smash the grip the big companies have and have like this mega clean environment.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Link Flag
and that's about all
The article doesn't mention how much power each one of these installations is expected to generate. It's not surprising since the maker is still evaluating whether they can sell this as cost effective.

I realize that wind power is the hot technology now, but let's not get carried away. Can't power your house by a box fan on top of it, chances are one of these units may be able to power a light bulb or two at best. Seeing how these'll cost a couple thousand $$, and have maintenance costs, the company will have a hard time selling these.

The country needs to move beyond fossil fuel power plants, but it's a pretty big waste to invest $3 billion to get only 2500 MW.

It would be one thing if just stores and malls got in on this. The worst part of this is that soon enough city governments will start getting this sort of thing. They'll be putting in these units on top of municipal buildings and have their pictures taken in front of them. Good for you Mr. Mayor, doesn't it all look so very cool. Why Mr. Mayor it helps America's addiction to oil - bravo! How much power does it actually generate? Don't ask don't tell, but nationwide it's almost as much as two power plants, you see. Thanks for wasting taxpayer money on these toys.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
"Cool Factor" is all windmills ever will have
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Did you get this story from a press release, or what?
I am a blogger, investor, clean tech enthusiast myself. I absolutely hate it when clean techs are profiled, and there is no discussion as to the economics. All clean technology must be judged on its competitiveness with the fossil-based alternatives currently in place. Yes, we know it will have a premium right now, as most of them are in the early stages. But, how much of one? With non-energy techs such as software, communications, semiconductors, etc., there are other useful metrics that can make it compelling. With energy, it is cost/kwh. The coolness factor doesn't cut it in this field. So...

Please help us with some of the following metrics:

* Cost of the unit
* Expected power output of the unit
* Expected lifespan of the unit
* Maintenance or other ongoing costs
* Cost per kw/h. (This can be derived with the above metrics)
* In the case of wind techs, please also give us the avg. wind speed required to achieve these metrics

This piece looks as if it could have been copied from the company brochure. I am not denigrating the product, the idea, or the business model. Unless we have these metrics, there is no way to evaluate.

Mark Brandon
Sustainable Log - News and Views for Socially Responsible Investors
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Posted by 208mbrandon (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What is the problem?
It is story about the possible introduction of wind power into urban and residential sectors and what some innovative people are working toward. If youre looking for numbers, contact the companies mentioned in the article that have courage to risk some time and capital in this growing industry. Vision is not always return on investment, it is that what could be with time.
Posted by Thomas Hostetler (2 comments )
Link Flag
To answer your question, no, I didn't get this story from a press release. Hardly. Neither company I spoke to has commercialized their product yet so any discussion of economics would not be very accurate, in terms of cost per kilowatt hour.

I agree that any potential purchaser or investor should consider costs and benefits. But a complex, speculative calculation of that nature doesn't make sense in this article, which was about how some companies are pursuing the idea of wind mills in urban or suburban settings.
Posted by mlamonica (330 comments )
Link Flag
Energy Comparisions
You can't compare the different sources of energy - a lot of the fossil fuel industry is either directly or indirectly subsidized by the government through low interest loans and grants. These will skew any comparisions in favor of fossil fuels. If there wasn't this subsidization you would find that clean energy is a much more cost effective investment.
Posted by Bytrat (99 comments )
Link Flag
World trade center anyone
A wind mill on top of the new world trade center
would send a signal to the oil producers.
Get the power generation close to the use.
Putting it on top of an existing skyscraper should not be a NIMBY problem. Putting them on a pristine landscape that is a problem.
How about a home windmill to recharge the Prius.
Posted by swwg69 (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I thought of Don Quixote
... Except this is fighting with windmills. I still do not see how this would work. What? It will probably not be able to produce more than 10% of the power needed for a mall? Then, you would have to take in account the added weight and stress to exixting structure, and added cost to build new ones compatible with the technology.
I still believe that efficient sun power should be the goal.
Posted by MacarioV (6 comments )
Link Flag
Nano turbines
We should have nano scale wind turbines. Imagine a nano wind turbine shirt that constantly recharges your mobile phone ;-)
Posted by (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re: Mobile Phones
As if most cell phone users weren't already full of hot air, now you're encouraging them to talk more by talking more?

Great idea, Pranay, but my sanity just wouldn't be able to take it.

Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
nano turbines?
LOL. But you might have the last laugh all the way to the bank dude, because it soundes like a seller,
Posted by notaryah (1 comment )
Link Flag
Would you own a windmill?
Would You Own a Windmill?

Cost $2 million. Expected return on investment ~ about 15%
sounds good for a large corporation. So that means that a wind
turbine just has to clear about $300,000 per year to make
money. Easy. After all wind is free.

1.5 MW turbines stand 40 stories tall, but on average you can
expect to only get about 20% or so use out of them - the rest of
the time the wind is not blowing, or they are down for
maintenance. They run 365 days per year, 24 hours per day *
20% of the time, so 1752 hours per year. Electricity costs 10
cents per kwh at home, but 1/2 of that is for transmission. The
other 5 cents is for the power. 5 cents is the retail price. You will
only get 2 to 3 cents, as you own a source of electricity that
can't be turned on on demand. Say 2.5 cents. In total your $2
million investment makes 1.5MW*365*24*20%*0.025 = $66
thousand per year. Wow, that is not much money. But you still
have to maintain the turbine. Good luck doing that for $50
thousand a year, after lightning, wind and sun do their damage.
So you might break even. Why, then all the turbines going up in
the US? The answer is government money - $300 000 of it per
turbine per year. So now you are happy. You get cheques,
depreciation allowances, tax breaks, and more. It won't be easy.
You will have to spend many hours at local and federal
governments. Flights to Washington. But if your company is
named GE you will succeed.
Posted by knobsturner (46 comments )
Reply Link Flag
and if you're not using oil
from middle eastern pigs, who cares! keep it in the USA and keep the rest OUT.
Posted by MS789 (17 comments )
Link Flag
Mini Distributed Wind Turbines
Funny, I was just thinking that wind turbines should be small, and absolutely everywhere.
Like distributed or grid computing (Human Proteome Folding, SETI, Cancer Busters, etc) you have millions of PCs running small tasks that, put together generates more processing power than the most powerful supercomputers in existence. I believe you can apply the same principle to produce energy from mini turbines that are connected to the power grid and feed it whenever it generates some power. Are we on to something? every single transmission tower, telephone and electricity pole should have at least one on top of it (and feed the grid directly), in fact every single structure should have one. This principle would apply to any form of energy production from mini solar panels (everywhere) to hydroelectric : taping energy from water in pipes and storm drains and sewers. I've also seen special speed bumps on roads that generate energy when a car goes over them... so many intersections with heavy traffic will generate a great deal of energy. You should be able to charge your Ipod just by walking, really.
Any Venture Capitalists reading this Article Out There!
Posted by uncle frank--2008 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wind power is future
I believe the only drawback - if too many of these were installed - would be the noise.
Posted by Noreast (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Noisy wind turbines
One aspect of this article that has not been mentioned is the fact
that small wind turbines are nothing new. In my local harbor,
there are dozens of them on sailboats. These turbines provide a
valuable but tiny amount of power - they are used to charge the
batteries so that the boats "on the hook" can operate their
required anchor lights.

Very little else can be operated on the quantity of power

It is also fairly common for one of the turbines to develop a very
annoying whine when the bearings go bad.

Otherwise, the noise is fairly bearable.
Posted by Rod Adams (74 comments )
Link Flag
make 'em pretty!
I'm all for wind power if it is ecologically sound (surely there are computer models which will forecast the effects of harnessing X amount of wind in a given area). But please don't let them be UGLY, as most things designed by engineers are! Get the group that designs Mac products to work on something that will harness the wind AND enhance the beauty of rooflines! It can be done!!
Posted by jhencken (65 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Posted by delightinHisname (2 comments )
Link Flag

Posted by delightinHisname (2 comments )
Link Flag
Dead Birds
How many dead and dieing birds will we find under these micro turbines?
Posted by grangerfx (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
probably none unless they're microbirds
Unlike large windfarm turbines, the enclosure appears to have a
mesh covering the turbine blades to keep birds from flying into
Posted by teel (1 comment )
Link Flag
Dead birds a red herring
The whole issue of dead birds via wind turbines is a dead one, if I may say so. Giant wind turbines have been closely monitored dfor years now, and the dead bird fanciers now have no basis for complaint.
Studies clearly show that the typical giant turbine kills no birds at all. The dead bird worriers apparently have no idea of just how many millions of birds are killed each year in the US from such things as : flying into windows and buildings (estimates range up to a BILLION) , or eaten by cats (100 million) , hit by cars (100 million), flying into electric transmission lines (174 million), and so on.
The bird worriers are spreading gigantic lies about the extent of bird kills by windmills. Most of these people could care less about birds - their motive is to block wind power ad they will take advantage of public ignorance to do so. They
present themselves as protectors of nature all the while they are acting to help destroy nature. These people are beyond contempt. And I'm including you too, Ted Kennedy, two-faced blubber boy of Mass.
Posted by theBike45 (90 comments )
Link Flag
It's a nice idea...
Unfortunately, there's no real practical application that will allow
for the massive use of wind power in the United States.

They're good as a supplemental system, but the cost per
Megawatt is too high to be sustatinable as a mainline solution.

Neither is solar power for much the same reasons.

What needs to happen is for fusion power, preferably cold
fusion, to be advanced far enough to allow for fusion plants to
be built inexpensively and efficiently.
Posted by nightveil (133 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good Idea for high rise buildings
The wind capacity in a city with High Rise building differe a lot when compared to the normal flow of wind on wind intense locations where normally the wind farms are located , hence it is good idea to put this on high rise building after studying the wind flow analysis at different heights and designing the wind blades accordingly and place them at different heights on the building and safety for bird hit can be considered by afine wire mesh. I fully support this idea and hope it will help us in decreasing dependecy on fossil fuels.
Posted by Prabhakar21 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Small wind turbines
The place to put these is next to motorways!!! Noise pollution problem solved.. they can't be any noiseier than the motorway is already. skyline pollution solved... motorways are ugly anyway. Vagaries of the wind solved... the "wind" generated by traffic is going to be fairly predictable.

Lisa Green
Posted by LisaFayGreen (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Money and power ...
How much can it be expected to cost and how much power can it be expected to produce yearly ?

If it costs 3000$ and can produce 100Kwh/Year in a typical installation, it's a joke.

If the cost is below 1$/Kwh/Year, they might be into something ...
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
Reply Link Flag
there purpose is strictly functional. why spend the extra $ on uneeded aesthetics
Posted by dave aszenine (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
for the same reason you have aesthetic light fixtures on buildings and not bare bulbs. Aesthetics can be combined with functionality.
Posted by honig1 (1 comment )
Link Flag
wind powerd turbines
A # of initiatives has been estlsh.in N.Amer.to encourage the use of renwble.energy.In Can.there are both prov. and fedrl.progrms.At the Fed. level, the wind power prduction incentive provids 1.2 cents per kwh to wind genr. projects greater than 500 kw out to 2007 .The prog. was anonsed.in Dec.2001 and by 2004 the fed. gov. had recieved exprsns. of intr.from eligible projts. for a tl. of 8990 MW The one tonne chalnge.has been advtsed.nationaly and is designed to encorage all Candns. to reduce their green house gas emisns. by 1 tonne through reduce vehcls. useg. and other strtgs.(Note:) The swift trbn. system from renewbl. devices in Edindurg U.K. advrts.their trbn. will cut household carbon emissions by about 1.6 tons per home per year.So much for the tall chmnys. YEH! To you all that are skptics and crtcs please be patient and acept the futre with an open mind.As computors was not a household word 30 years ago,well look at it now.If I was to tell you the product that that we are about to launch that weighs 30lbs. sits on your roof/or pole produs'1.5 kwt,saves your hydro bill by 30% in conjt.it could be hooked up to batteries and/or solar pnls. directly to the electricle.pnls.Futher more it ties in to the grid.........now do I have your attention. Birds will not get hurt because of scarecrow theory.Sound is not a factor for it is a small unit unlike the gigantic prplars. that hums up on mt.tops. Maintnce.is next to nill for it has very few moving gear parts and does not oprate. with a braking systm. hence less parts to repair. The unt. sells for Retl. aprox.$4500 Cnd.all inclsv.Install by a reg. electrn. for $5to$600 + warty.Afortable? Well yes. This is an introctn. and a so call serva. To see if you're all ready for the next new toy to hit the market. Looking forward to your respond..........Thank you!!!
Posted by futuro vento (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The ONLY realistic way to balance energy budget ...
is to reduce consumption. Easiest way to do that is to make daily commute as short as possible. Gov't at every level (local, state, fed) should have regs and progs to encourage people, in every way conceivable, to shorten their commute. Note that this obviously entails making cities clean and safe, with good school systems, efficient public transport, and accessible shopping. Cities of many sizes could be fuel-efficient, not just mega-cities, so people would still have some choice about how urban they want to be. Even close-in suburbs could survive, esp. if they had some local employers and/or access to some sort of mass transport. Admittedly, the ex-urbs would mostly die. Cry me a river.

Step #1 is to tax vehicle fuels heavily, and use the money to reduce sales tax, so that it is revenue-neutral and not regressive.

Step #2 is to lower the age at which people can sell their (large) family home and move to a much smaller one, without getting hit with devastating capital gains taxes. This would encourage empty-nesters to make way for families with kids. Thus large fuel-inefficient houses in urban areas would be more likely to be used by people who actually need all that room. Real estate prices in urban areas would not skyrocket so much if the supply was increased in this way.
Posted by dmm (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Micro Turbines!
Wow. I can't wait to see them on sale for homes!
Pretty darn cool!
Posted by Editgreen (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Turbines!!??These manufacturers all need more R&D...
I visited all the links to their respective websites and was greatly disappointed in all except for one. I should hope that they (all) have some better designs for "Wind Turbines" in their R&#38;D deptartments that they are not showing us. Anything I've seen all looks like pinwheel fans, speaking of which, are/were things I read about twenty years ago in a Popular Science Magazine. Rethinking a design from the inside looking out and adding in a little "three dimensional thinking" could prove very interesting, and profitable as well. If they aren't any farther than the pinwheel design,,, Lord help them and make them see how to use their brains again. Good Luck...
Posted by ger ger (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
They've got it
Just because they still are using blades similar to those you've seen years ago is not an indicator that technology has not been invested. After all, cars still use wheels, pistons, and cylinders, just like they have since the model T. What has changed is the performance and efficiency.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
You are missing the most significant of Urban Building Turbine makers
see www.windation.com
contact us for more details
Posted by Sheikhrezai (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You are missing the most significant of Urban Building Turbine makers
see www.windation.com
contact us for more details
Posted by Sheikhrezai (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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