WindTronics to start selling “breakthrough” small wind turbines in Canada… but will it break through?

I’m not about to pass judgement on the claims that WindTronics has made regarding its Honeywell Wind Turbine for homes and businesses. I’ve heard bad stuff from the skeptics and good stuff from the enthusiasts, but at least we don’t have to speculate anymore. WindTronics announced today that it will start selling its Windsor-manufactured small turbines in November, so we’ll get a sense soon enough whether the claims hold up.

And what are the claims? The company says its turbine has “higher performance output and lower installed cost per kilowatt than any other unit on the market today in class and size.”

The Honeywell Wind Turbine is a gearless wind turbine that measures just 6 feet in diameter, weighs 185 lbs (84kgs) and is able to produce 2752 kWh/yr in Class 4 winds. The Honeywell Wind Turbine’s multi-stage blades allow the system to react quickly to changes in wind speed, ensuring that the maximum wind energy is captured, without the typical noise and vibration associated with traditional wind turbines. It is designed to be installed where power is consumed, allowing home and business owners to harness wind energy in a cost effective and efficient manner.

WindTronics made the decision in summer 2009 to manufacture the machines in Windsor, Ontario, which had been pummelled by the auto crisis and recession and suffered from huge unemployment. In that context it was a good-news story because the Michigan-based parent company, EarthTronics, said the facility it was taking over was a former Magna International autoparts plant where 200 new jobs would be created. I wrote the story in the Toronto Star in August 2009 and had a blog entry as well. Here’s how I described the turbine:

The turbine has a unique design — i.e. it has no gearbox or generator at the core; rather, it generates power from the magnets lined along a wheel that connects its blade tips. This, the company claims, allows it to start generating power at wind speeds as low as 1.6 miles per hour, compared to conventional turbine designs that typically require 8 miles per hour. The reason is low resistance because a gearbox is no longer required.

The company says on its Web site that the turbine’s installed cost is about half the cost of a traditional small wind turbine. It sells as part of a package that includes a computerized smart box, an inverter and an interconnect switch for wiring the system into a household panel. The MRSP is $6,495, but I’m sure that’s the U.S. pricing — not sure what Canadian pricing will be. Also not sure what installed cost would be, which is important if you want to compare it to, say, putting solar panels on your roof.

If you can truly get about 2,700 kilowatt-hours a year from this thing (keeping in mind that the estimate is based on having this thing at least 33 feet in the air), and if you get a microFIT contract in Ontario paying 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for all sizes of onshore wind, then you’re looking at earning $365 a year. That means it would take 18 years to pay back just the cost of the technology, never mind the added cost of installation. Not the greatest deal when you have a solar option promising a 10-year payback.

Now, suppose small wind got the same microFIT rate as solar — 80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. Then you’d earn $2,165 a year from the WindTronics unit (assuming proper wind speeds in your area). That’s a three-year payback on the technology. I’m not sure what installation cost would be, but let’s assume for the sake of argument it would add 50 per cent to the cost. So we’re looking at roughly $10,000, which would be closer to a five-year payback.

This begs the question: Why such great rates for solar when you could offer the same 10-year return on investment for a WindTronics system at half the cost — i.e. about 40 cents per kilowatt-hour? I’m not a fan of small-wind technology, but it could prove a great solution for folks without southern rooftop exposure who have buildings and trees blocking the sun from hitting their rooftops. If you live in rural Ontario it may make more sense than solar PV.

Food for thought.

4 thoughts on “WindTronics to start selling “breakthrough” small wind turbines in Canada… but will it break through?”

  1. Unfortunately, what is lacking in the small wind turbine industry, is a way to accurately show each makers turbines and how they stack up against each other. I think you are right- solar is probably a better option, at leas for now. But if you live in a windy area- power from wind increases exponentially with increasing wind speed- so in areas with wind it can start to make sense. Unfotunately, Austin is not one of those areas;-)

    Interesting for this design is their clain of a kick-in speed of only 1.6 mph- most are at 8-12mph- will be interesting to see some 3rd party verification on this.

  2. you mentioned the critics but what are their beefs with this product? Has anyone given a detailed critique yet?

  3. The critics are folks who called and e-mailed me when I first wrote about their company. They were skeptical the venture would ever get off the ground, so in a way Windtronics proved them wrong. But they also questioned the claimed performance of the turbines, and as I illustrated above, even with ideal performance they still don’t offer a decent payback when paid 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

  4. This system looks good in theory but who cares if it can turn at 2mph when there is almost no energy to captured at such a low speed, kind of a lost leader.

    So which small home wind system is best? Do any of them offer a reasonable payback window? (charts I want charts)
    I’m not looking at endorsements but just a break down by catagory, vertical vs horizontal, a normal hub vs the magnets on the tips like Windtronics.

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