Wind Power Comes to the Suburbs

When I was a kid, a windmill was something we came across on rare family expeditions to the Mini-Putt or rural Holland. More recently, wind power has become associated with gigantic industrial-sized turbines, which we like because they’re carbon-free and better than having a coal-fired power plant in your backyard, but are still noisy, bird-risky, and controversial with the neighbors. 

Now wind-power technology has advanced in sophistication, and retreated in size, so that even a modest home can generate its own electricity.

Mariah Power, in Reno, Nevada, has developed the Windspire, a cheap and simple “vertical axis wind power appliance” that can be put up anywhere there’s a half acre of land and a regular breeze. When placed in a location with average 12-mph winds, the Windspire will generate about 1900 kilowatt hours (KwH) annually—about enough for the typical household to run a refrigerator and freezer for the year.

The Windspire as advertised has a number of features that make it attractive to the urban or suburban homeowner. For one thing it’s slim, not bad-looking, and at 30 feet tall, it conforms to most residential zoning restrictions. It has a slow rotor speed, making it safe for kids and birds, and it’s almost silent. If it lives up to its marketing lingo, it also only requires about 2 minutes of maintenance a year. Finally, it comes in a variety of colors so that you can put up half a dozen and make a festive little energy forest in your backyard.

The Windspire is currently undergoing independent testing, but Mariah is taking orders and says they’ve got a long list of current and prospective customers on a waiting list to buy. It’s expected to be available in the spring of 2008, at a price of around $4,000.

Home wind power is coming of age elsewhere too. Graeme Attey of Freemantle, Australia is working on a turbine that’s just over 3 feet long and 18 inches high, or about the size of a microwave oven from the 70s. It perches unobtrusively on the roof of your house, and in theory, about five of these bad boys could keep the average home fully powered up. Attey is getting funding from the government of the state of Western Australia to move the product towards commercialization.