By JOHN MURAWSKI
Raleigh News and Observer
July 20, 2009
Some Green energy advocates 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.
The Windspire -- with its comparatively low price tag and a design that works on office rooftops and in suburban open spaces -- also offers a potential solution for those who just want to supplement their power supply.
The mechanism can be seen on the North Carolina 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.
"You 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 some states, the cost of the unit is effectively marked down by more than half if the buyer takes advantage of federal and state tax incentives for green energy.
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.
But 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.
Mariah 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 at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., and, the Marin County Convention Center in northern 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."
According 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.
Another 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 said.
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