They look like vertical works of art, spinning in an Iowa breeze. But unlike their tall, propellor-driven cousins that dot the northern Iowa countryside, Windspire wind turbines look right at home on city boulevards, in farm yards and in people’s back yards.
As fun as they are to watch, Windspires have an important job to do. They use a natural resource, the wind, to create electricity to supplement the power already being supplied to a home or a business.
The Windspire vertical wind turbine was created by a small wind technology company, Mariah Power (mariahpower.com), based in Reno, Nev. It’s manufactured by former autoworkers in Manistee, Mich.
The area dealer is Grisham Industries Inc. (grishamind.com), 13609 110th Ave. Davenport. Phone (563) 381-3525. In addition to being a Windspire dealer, Grisham, established in 1986, provides millwright, machining, welding and metal fabricating services mainly to corporate accounts. The company employs 25 people.
“This is a very good product,” Grisham Industries owner Vince Grisham says of the Windspire. He became a dealer last fall.
“I researched a lot of these wind turbine sites online myself before choosing to go with this company,” he says. “It’s got a nice profile.”
Here’s how the Windspire works: Breezes are caught by aluminum airfoils, which spin a rotor. Like airplane wings, the airfoils use the principle of lift to propel the rotor faster.
The rotor turns a generator that produces electricity. An inverter then converts it to alternating current. The power is supplied by an underground cable to a home, shop or business, where it can be monitored on a personal computer.
If the wind isn’t blowing, the consumer still has a ready supply of energy from the local power utility. Safety controls prevent power surges from the Windspire, and there’s an automatic shutoff if the power grid fails.
Because it’s designed for architectural appeal and it’s silent, the folks at Mariah Power say the Windspire can bring wind power close to areas where people live and work.
The standard Windspire is 30 feet tall (although it can be extended, if needed) and 4 feet in diameter. It is rated to survive 105 mph winds. (An optional 23-foot version can withstand 168 mph winds.)
The Windspire comes in a variety of colors and provides power at 120 volts alternating current right now, but Mariah promises other power options in the future.
The components include:
* The rotor, which converts the moving air into rotational mechanical energy.
* The generator, which converts the mechanical energy into into electricity. It’s designed for 98 percent efficiency at low rotations per minute.
* An Underwriters Laboratory-rated inverter, which converts the electricity to grid-ready 120 volt AC.
* The structure, a hinged pole of recycled steel painted with weather-proof paint for easy maintenance. Included are sealed bearings that never need grease. The unit requires a concrete base.
The Windspire connects to a dedicated 20-amp breaker at a building’s main electric panel, and the power it provides is used immediately.
The turbine’s collection area is about 20 feet tall at 4 feet in diameter, according to Josh Briggs, an estimator for Grisham who is their go-to guy for Windspire information. “So that gives you about 80 square feet of collection.”
One big advantage of the design, he says, is, “You don’t have to worry about the unit adjusting to catch the prevailing wind. It’s able to catch the wind in any direction.”
Briggs says, “The unit will start producing power at 8 mph winds and go all the way up to 35 mph winds. At 35 mph, it does have a braking system in it.” That’s to avoid overheating the internal components.
As for Windspire’s annual energy production, the manufacturer says with 12 mph winds it’s 2,000 kilowatt hours (kWh). Kilowatt hours, a unit of energy equal to 1,000 watt hours, are the billing unit for the energy that utilities provide to their customers.
The turbine’s instantaneous power rating is 1,200 watts, and the maximum power at 30 mph winds is 1,600 watts.
What does a Windspire cost? Briggs says it’s less than $10,000 installed, and rebates may be available that lower the cost further. The price includes the parts; installation, which is done by Grisham in a day; and the connection to the building, which is subcontracted to an electrician.
How about payback? Depending on wind conditions, the length of the electrical cable, electricity rates and local incentives, Briggs says the unit can pay for itself in as little as five years.
But he says his company has two challenges.
“There are not a lot of (zoning) ordinances for these units, which are designed for residential, agriculture and small commercial use. (Existing) ordinances are geared for larger scale units.”
Briggs says Grisham is working with potential Windspire buyers to remedy that situation.
“We have some helpful suggestions for them as far as a format for (ordinances),” he says.
He notes that the company worked with Scott County to get a permit for a Windspire on the Don Hulsing farm, located northeast of the Interstate-80/Interstate-280 interchange.
“The other big issue is getting people to understand what the Windspire is,” says Briggs. One misconception, he notes, is that the turbines make noise when they spin. In reality, he says, they are nearly silent.
Hulsing’s Windspire, which is visible to motorists on I-80, went in right before winter so he hasn’t yet determined how much money he is saving on power. But he is happy with the unit.
“I plan to put in three or four more,” he says.
“The typical unit can provide anywhere from one-third to one-fifth of your power needs, depending on America’s estimated power consumption over the year,” according to Briggs.
The Windspire’s estimated 20-year life requires no scheduled maintenance. It has a five-year limited warranty.
And it really is fun to watch.
Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article appeared in the Country Connection section of The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa, and The Wilton-Durant (Iowa) Advocate News.