Residential Wind Power News?

Much of the “news” relating to residential wind power, and solar power for that matter, usually comes in the form of a press release. Unfortunately, the first time consumer of a particular product, like a wind turbine, assumes the information he or she just read in the press release is sufficient to make an informed buying decision. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s a good example. It’s a wind turbine for home use by designer Philippe Starck, better known as a designer of consumer products like toothbrushes and wristwatches.

His new residential wind turbine, which he has named “Democratic Design,” is a transparent polycarbonate rectangle about 12 feet wide and 18 feet high and, according to the press release on, can generate 20 percent to 60 percent of a home’s annual electricity. Democratic Design will reportedly sell for $630 when it becomes available in September, 2008.

The project was realized with the help of Pramac; a Milan, Italy based manufacturer of portable and stand by generators and a recent entrant into the field of renewable technology.

Judging by the comments submitted by readers of the press release, they were enthusiastic at the prospect of cutting their electric bills in half for a one time investment of only $630. And who wouldn’t be? The problem is, a complete grid tied wind power system requires additional components (how about a tower?) not included in the $630 price tag.

Another problem with Democratic Design is the vague power output projections. Power output is expressed as kilowatt hours, not as a percentage of your home’s energy needs. Every other wind powered turbine sold today has a specific kWh (kilowatt hour) rating. When the kWh rating is combined with local wind speed data, you can size a wind turbine to provide a certain percentage of your home’s energy needs, not the other way around.

Also of interest is the degree to which Pramac is involved in the production and distribution of
Democratic Design. When I visited their website, I discovered that they had, in fact, recently become involved in the distribution of solar PV systems, but no mention was made of their participation with Democratic Design.

I find this odd considering a scheduled fall release – less than two months from the date of this article. That is not to say this newly designed wind turbine won’t revolutionize wind power someday, but at this stage it’s more important to consider the practical aspects of Democratic Design and how they influence the estimated cost for a complete wind system.

First of all, let’s look at the sheer size of this thing. At 12′ x 18′ high, this isn’t something you want to plunk down in your back yard for the neighborhood kids to try to jump in and out of as it spins around. Neither do you want anything with the dimensions of your living room mounted on the roof of your house.

The solution is to mount it on a tower. But I’m not an engineer, so I can’t tell you for certain if any of the towers used for other wind turbines would accommodate, or be adaptable to the Democratic Design. That being said, prices for towers vary by height and construction. A 30′ guyed tower, not including installation, costs around $800. While a 35′ monopole tower, also uninstalled, costs about $3,400.

The next component not included in the price of Democratic Design is the inverter. An inverter is necessary to convert the DC (Direct Current) power generated by the turbine into AC power compatible with household appliances.

The inverter size is determined by the output of the turbine. Assuming Democratic Design will provide 30{68d322ae31f1e6e0c1fb01577a31b4c5acc2b218b32cc133daf91ba1cb302777} of a household’s annual power consumption; you would need an inverter in the 3000 watt range costing approximately $2,300.

I think you get the point. Already, $3,000 – $6,000 has been added to the cost of Democratic Design without considering the cost of installation, or optional equipment such as a performance monitor.

But don’t get me wrong, if Democratic Design really works, the initial cash outlay for a complete system would still be competitive with other wind powered systems. However, until Democratic Design gets approval from the appropriate state and federal agencies, it won’t qualify for the tax incentives that make renewable energy affordable.

Press releases are great for creating interest in a particular topic or product. And residential wind power news is no exception. Just bear in mind; most news is factual, but doesn’t always contain all the facts.

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