The State of Small Wind [Interview]

The U.S. market for small wind turbines — those rated 100 kilowatts or less — grew 15% in 2009 with the installation of about 10,000 new units, according to the AWEA Small Wind Turbine Global Market Study in 2010.  In the same report, AWEA found that the largest manufacturer of these turbines in terms of kilowatts sold is Arizona-based Southwest Windpower.  I had the opportunity to email with the company’s marketing director, Miriam Robbins, and she was kind enough to share what’s new with Southwest Windpower.

Q:  Which of your turbines is the most popular or sells the most?  Can you share how many wind turbines your company sold or installed in 2010 (or recently)?

Robbins: Southwest Windpower has been in business since 1987 and manufactures several types of wind turbines. The Air line of wind turbines is our best selling system in terms of units as it is a small battery charging system with a highly versatile level of applications. The Skystream, however, is a larger 2.4 kW system designed for applications that are already connected to the electric grid and would like to offset their electricity.

Southwest Windpower sells on average 10,000 – 12,000 of the Air units a year. More than 7,000 of the Skystream systems have been installed since the product’s introduction to the market in 2006.

Q: Is there any kind of demographic, property type, location, or country where you’re seeing a lot of business?  Or where you expect to see a lot of business going forward?

Robbins: Because we are essentially providing a renewable energy solution, the markets vary across the world depending on type of product sold. While many users can utilize the Air, Whisper, or Skystream turbines for personal use, we also see a large potential worldwide for industrial and government projects. The growing cost of diesel is creating a higher demand for wind turbines in applications such as Telecom and rural electrification, to name a few.

Q: Of all the turbines you sell, do you have any idea as to what percentage would be used for off-grid versus utility-connected installations?

Robbins: While we don’t have a specific breakdown of use, studies have shown that grid-connected systems are the growing part of the market. That said, we still see much potential for diesel, solar hybrid systems in many industrial and commercial areas.

Q: Are you seeing much traction in terms of building- or roof-integrated applications of your wind turbines?  If so, how effective are these installations?

Robbins: For maximum efficiency of any wind turbine, it is best to install a wind turbine away from any obstacles that can create turbulence. Roof top mounting tends to be impractical and results in an inefficient system because the turbines are so close to the rooftop. Additionally, on smaller structures like homes, the loads of the wind turbine, when running, could cause damage to the structure. Our smaller system – the AIR – can be roof mounted because of its size, but the energy output is less than the Skystream and most often would be used on off-grid homes or cabins as an augment to solar photovoltaics.

Q: I recall hearing President George Bush, Sr., installed a Skystream 3.7 wind turbine.  Do you have any other high-profile customers that have installed or purchased a wind turbine from Southwest Windpower?

Robbins: A Skystream wind turbine is installed at George Bush Sr.’s home in Kennebunkport, ME. Some high profile sites that are public include the Boston Museum of Science, the U.S. Botanic Gardens in DC and at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry as well as many stadiums, parks and schools across the country.

Q: What’s the best way for someone to find out whether their site works for a wind turbine?  Should they contact a dealer, an electrician, an energy auditor, or someone else?  Or is there any kind of simple, DIY method for evaluating wind potential?

Robbins: Generally, the first step is finding a good resource to determine if wind is right for you. Southwest Windpower has trained, authorized dealers that can be found at www.windenergy.com. These professionals can help site your wind system.

Editor’s note: If you want to access AWEA’s most recent global market study, click here.  Also, at CES 2011, Southwest Windpower unveiled a new small wind turbine, the Skystream 600, which has larger blades, enhanced software, and an improved integrated inverter.  This potential game-changer will be available in the next few months.

Credits: Southwest Windpower.


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  • MrSteve007

    I have to say that the Skystream product seems to be one of the best out there for small wind power, but you do have to have a near ideal site to get any usable amount of energy out of this type of energy source – and don’t believe they hype out of 95% of the manufacturers out there.

    Don’t take my word for it though; check out the live & historical output of the dozen small wind turbines the City of Reno, NV is currently testing. All of the vertical axis turbines are amazingly poor in their performance (which thankfully Southwest Wind power doesn’t offer that type of turbine) – and most of the traditional horizontal axis turbines don’t fare much better.

    http://greenenergy.reno.gov/energy/

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      That link is fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

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