Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reshuffling Our Top 5 Micro Wind Turbines

by Tina Casey ,
One of the most popular micro wind turbine companies around, Southwest Windpower, began to scale back operations last year and has apparently closed its doors, which means that our list of Top 5 Micro Wind Turbines is overdue for a re-do.
As a preliminary step, let’s take a look at JLM Energy, Inc., an all-around renewable energy company that has figured out a way to piggyback its Zefr micro wind turbine arrays onto Southwest’s poles, resulting in a clever way to squeeze some extra juice out of existing wind turbine infrastructure.
No More Southwest Wind Power
Before we get into one of those OMG another Obama-supported green company goes belly up kind of “scandals,” let’s note for the record that Southwest Windpower was established in 1987. Throughout the years it won high-profile accolades for both its technology and its commercial success, with the business really taking off after launching a joint venture with the Department of Energy under the George W. Bush Administration.
One highlight: the 2006 “Best of What’s New” award from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (that’s Bush Administration, for those of you keeping score at home).
The company refused an offer of $700,000 from President Obama’s Recovery Act grant in 2011. It did, however, accept a grant of $460,000 from the State of Arizona in 2010, for energy-efficient upgrades to its Flagstaff facility, and it obtained backing from the Colorado-based early stage venture capital group Altira among other investors in 2009 (Altira, btw, is known more for experience in the oil and gas sector but whatever).
Also for the record, in 2007 former president George H.W. Bush installed the company’s best selling micro wind turbine, the Skystream 3.7, at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
That explains the cricket chirps from the usual suspects, so let’s move on.
…but before we do, let’s also note that back in 2009, Southwest Windpower was citing the federal production tax credit for wind power as a key element in its success. The reasons for Southwest’s fall have yet to be sorted out but uncertainty over extension of the credit (round up the usual suspects, again) in 2012 probably didn’t help matters.
JLM’s Zefr Micro Wind Turbine Array Up
JLM Energy offers a variety of building-mounted renewable energy solutions including its AirBlades series of micro wind turbines, which it offers in an array package called Zefr.
From a distance, the arrays resemble a souped-up army of those oversized plastic daisy windmills you see in front yards, which brings up an important point regarding micro wind turbines, especially building-mounted micro wind turbines.
Aside from generating renewable energy, aesthetic appeal is a critical factor for micro wind turbines, as we pointed out in our Top 5 Micro Wind Turbines – Remix! list.
An array of micro wind turbines adds a striking element of interest to a building, and it provides companies with can’t-miss-it proof of their sustainability credentials.
The sporting world, for one, has started to pick up on the trend, a couple of recent examples being the Buffalo Bills and the Philadelphia Eagles.
One example of the extra benefits of micro wind turbines is a kinetic sculpture park in New Zealand that includes wind turbines along with non-generating sculptures, which was developed to boost the nation’s global profile and drive its tourism sector.
In other words, even if the payback for micro wind turbines is not particularly quick in terms of utility savings, other forms of payback could more than make up the difference, at least for commercial properties and economic development zones.
Vertical Micro Wind Turbine Arrays
One thing to keep in mind when considering a turbine array is the outsized effect that turbulence and microclimate (for example, the proximity of nearby buildings) could have on efficiency. On the other hand, JLM’s vertical array concept does revolve around existing turbine poles, so it gets a running start on site selection.
The vertical array concept came about when the company Solar Wind Energy LLC approached JLM with the observation that its customers already had installed Southwest turbine towers and needed to find a way to use them.
Local zoning and permitting regulations could still provide a sticking point, but with the turbine tower installed a good deal of the work is already done.
JLM spotted an opportunity and quickly assembled a design team to develop a custom turbine pole clamp for Zefr arrays, specifically to fit Southwest’s poles including the Skystream, Air and Whisper series.
Since the Zefr pole-mount clamp was just introduced last week and another manufacturer might pick up the Skystream 3.7 where Southwest left off, we’re not going to switch our Top 5 list around just yet. But, we’ll keep an eye on JLM for our next update.