Small-time Wind Energy – Too Good to be True?

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When I heard the government had created incentives to encourage individuals to install small wind turbines at their homes and businesses, I was stoked. Perhaps the incentive would bring alternative energy into people’s living rooms, so to speak – out of the abstract and into real life. But a recent EcoGeek.org review of one wind power product – the Honeywell Home Wind Turbine by EarthTronics – has me wondering: will consumer disillusionment by potential flaws in small-time wind energy sources impede the renewable energy movement?

The EcoGeek reviewer watched Honeywell’s promotional video, which describes the six-foot-wide turbine as being able to generate more than 1,500 kilowatts per year, meet 30 percent of consumers’ energy needs (when run in conjunction with a fluorescent light bulb, which comes with the turbine), and pay for itself in one to three years (in many states). The turbine costs $4,500.

The EcoGeek reviewer’s beef with Honeywell’s claims was, primarily, that the promo video did not qualify its figures. It should have mentioned, for example, that it its definition of the “average household’s energy consumption” as being 10- to 11,000 kilowatts per year – lower, the EcoGeek reviewer believes, than the energy consumption of households most likely to purchase the turbine. Moreover, with an initial investment of $4,500, and an anticipated electricity cost of 12 cents per kilowatt in 2010, how can the turbine pay for itself in just three years? (At 12 cents per kilowatt and, say, 1,580 kilowatts per year, the turbine would only produce $189.60 in electricity per year – a rate at which it would take consumers 23 years to pay off the $4,500.)

The reviewer goes on to imply that emerging “everyday Joe” renewable energy sources may just be fads, comparable to those of the computer industry in the early 90’s (consumers plopped down money for the latest, greatest technology, which turned out to be obsolete). This conclusion is understandable, given his take on the Honeywell turbine. Let’s just hope that the wind energy industry will be similar to the computer industry in other ways: able to make progress as technology improves, to become a household name, and, ultimately, to secure a lasting place in the renewable energy industry worldwide.

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.