Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Emerging Industry: Small Wind Turbines

(CNN) -- The gale force of President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package could breathe new life into an emerging industry: small wind turbines.

This 10-kilowatt, 120-foot-tall small wind turbine could fulfill the electricity needs of this household.

This 10-kilowatt, 120-foot-tall small wind turbine could fulfill the electricity needs of this household.

The bill provides a 30 percent investment tax credit to consumers who buy these turbines, which are typically used to help power homes or small businesses.

Even amid a recession, this tax credit "is going to blow the top off the market," said Ron Stimmel, a "small-wind" advocate with the American Wind Energy Association.

The association predicts the federal subsidy could help the small-turbine market grow by 40 to 50 percent annually, a boost that would parallel the growth of the U.S. solar photovoltaic industry after a similar 2005 initiative.

Unlike the towering windmills sprouting en masse from the Western Plains, small wind turbines have a capacity of 100 kilowatts or less and are designed to operate on the consumer side of the power grid, often in combination with solar panels. How do small wind turbines work? »

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the United States is already the world's leading manufacturer of small-wind technologies, holding roughly two-thirds of the world's market share. Last year, American companies made 98 percent of the small wind turbines sold in the United States.

To conservation-minded home or business owners, the turbines are an investment in clean energy and one way to ease America's dependence on foreign oil. In the right location, a 10-kilowatt turbine could supply the entire electricity needs of an average American household. The newly subsidized larger models can help power small businesses, farms and schools.

The wind industry is governed by the laws of physics. The higher the wind speed, the faster the turbine spins and the more electricity is produced. Because the output of a wind turbine also tends to increase proportionally with its distance from barriers such as trees or buildings, the most productive -- and cost-effective -- turbines sit atop tall towers erected on an acre or more of open land.

Despite this rule of thumb, there is a burgeoning movement to bring small-wind power to cities as well.

In San Francisco, California, a volunteer organization called the Urban Wind Task Force has distributed 27 wind-monitoring stations throughout the city to survey sites for potential turbine installations.

"It is true that doing wind in urban environments is a lot trickier than in rural environments," said Johanna Partin, San Francisco's Renewable Energy Program manager, who also coordinates the task force. "But the reason you rarely see [turbines in cities] may be that we just haven't figured out how to do it yet."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines last August when he proposed installing wind turbines atop city bridges and skyscrapers. He later backtracked, saying he wasn't sure the project was feasible.

Some experts, citing physical and regulatory hurdles, view the urban wind movement as misconceived.

"When you get down around a house, or in and amongst a lot of trees, or around buildings, the wind resource is seriously compromised," said Mick Sagrillo, founder of Sagrillo Power and Light, a renewable energy consultancy firm.

"All of the data that we've seen that's come out of any reporting or testing ... backs that up," said Sagrillo, a 29-year veteran of the field.

Stimmel, of the small-wind industry association, agrees.

"There are pockets of usable wind in cities," he says, "but they're very hard to find, and they're a lot more limited than you might think. It is most often not worth the time and expense."

There are also zoning regulations and permitting requirements in many cities that pose serious challenges to wind installations. Most experts say that city dwellers should focus their energy conservation efforts on other renewable technologies or home efficiency improvements.

Shrinking Our Eco-footprint

Contributed by: Jeff Boesel on 4/25/2009

Sometimes I wonder about people who choose to toss their empty drink can into the trash when there is a recycle bin right next to it. Maybe they see it as an infringement on their rights, or an inconvenience, but the sad fact is we continue to trash our country. We do have lots of places to put it, but do we want to see the Grand Canyon filled up with garbage someday? Okay, that is a little extreme, but there is, in Colorado Springs, an easy and quite inexpensive way to reduce what we pour into our landfills.

Most disposal companies offer some sort of recycling; usually, at a minimum, for paper and aluminum. Our company recently went to a program where we can recycle virtually everything. The real beauty of the program is that you don't have to sort anything. If it is recyclable, you just put it in a single bin and put the bin out each week for pick up on your regular trash day. It could not be easier.

We have reduced our actual landfill garbage by two thirds. I was shocked. Just think of the impact of that if all of our neighborhood would do the same! We could really make a difference and it changes almost nothing in the way we live our lives, outside of a little motivation and knowledge of what to recycle and what to throw away.

There is a small financial cost to participate in the program. I think ours is $5 a month. But think of this, since you are reducing the amount of your other trash, you could reduce the size of your trash container and reduce the cost associated with that. In our lives it works out to be an even trade. So, it's not saving me money, but, it's not costing me more money and I am doing something healthy for my planet.

reasonablepower Wind Energy Systems

606 East Patrick St
Frederick, MD 21701
(301) 401-0907