There’s a windmill on the corner of my block. It helps power a new home that also relies on solar and other renewable energy. But I don’t often see it revolving, and when it is spinning, the blades emit a low drone that I wonder if those living immediately around the house can hear. I also worry, perhaps irrationally, that it will claim the lives of innocent birdlife in my hood. PacWind, a California-based wind energy company founded in 1998, has an answer to these worries. It makes wind turbines (shown here) that use vertical blades, are visible to birds and can operate even in winds that would be too high or too low to make conventional windmills work effectively, according to the company.
PacWind garnered some attention late last year after Jay Leno installed a PacWind turbine to help power his 17,000-foot garage (that’s the size garage he needs for his, like, 5 million cars). And Ricoh, the Japanese maker of copiers and camera, is installing a billboard in Times Square that is lit by lights powered 95% by PacWind turbines (and 5% by solar).
And on Wednesday PacWind got a lift through a deal with WePower, another California startup that has been involved with PacWind since late last year when the two companies began a partnership through which WePower would manufacture up to 500,000 of PacWind’s vertical axis windmills annually (and handle many of business needs, such as managing tax incentives, energy rebates and carbon credits). This week, WePower has announced it has also purchased PacWind’s patented and proprietary wind energy technologies.
Riffing off the Ricoh billboard concept, the two companies are now promoting “windvertising,” wherein a company’s logo is printed across the blades of the vertical windmill and are visible as its spins (think of how a flip-book works). So the company gets an animated billboard with no energy consumption – in fact, the billboard generates electricity while spinning, which can be fed into the grid.
WePower says that if the estimated 500,000 billboards that are currently found along US highways were to convert to windvertising and if the turbines spun at an average wind speed of 10 miles per hour, they would generate roughly 16.8 billion kWh of electricity. “At this level they could power approximately 1.5 million homes and would reduce about 5.3 million tons of CO2 from being emitted into the air per year,” it says in a press statement.
WePower might be a good company to keep an eye on, because its eyes are on much more than the advertising market: it believes its turbines are a smart alternative to large-scale windmills for generating power in tight urban corridors, like mine.
The company also just purchased distribution rights to an electrical power generator platform designed by Aura Systems.
And Forbes reports that in a meeting of the nation’s regional utility commissioners in Washington, D.C. this week, the new secretary of energy, Steven Chu, said he’ll move quickly to foster the large investments in clean energy that the stimulus bill supports. If most of the stimulus money were directed at wind energy, it would be enough to “underwrite the construction of 30,000 MW of wind power,” says Forbes, quoting Hugh Wynne, an analyst at Bernstein Research. “That’s more wind capacity added in the U.S. in two years than exists worldwide,” the article states.