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5 small-wind technology players angling for mainstream attention

Home improvement stores including Lowe's, Home Depot, Ace Hardware and True Value are selling and installing certain small-wind turbines, which are building a following with some large rural properties, resorts and other remote sites.
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1 of 5 Heather Clancy/ZDNet

When it comes to wind power generation technology, the utility-scale deployments get much of the media attention. But small-wind technology -- turbines with a rated capacity of 100 kilowatts or less, and rotor diameters of less than 63 feet -- is starting to get more visibility. Especially since home improvement stories including Lowe's, Home Depot and the Ace Hardware chain have started selling some of the vendors seeking mainstream attention. Half of all the small-wind generation capacity -- about 50,000 megawatts -- was installed between 2007 and 2010, according to the American Wind Energy Association. It helps that there has been a federal incentive of up to 30 percent of the installed cost in place to help offset the investment. A guide from the U.S. Department of Energy  should help interested consumers research their buying decisions.

The Bergey WindPower Excel technology portfolio pictured here, for example, can be bought from Lowe's starting at $3,560 for the 1-kilowatt edition up to approximately $17,200 for the 10-kilowatt model. The rotor diameter for Excel is about 23 feet for the 10-kw version, and the towers typically used to install them range from 60 feet to 140 feet high. Bergey is focusing its attention on large rural homes, remote facilities, eco-tourism resorts and telecommunications sites. 

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2 of 5 Heather Clancy/ZDNet

The pitch by OmniWind Energy Systems is that its small-wind technology can work in extremely low wind conditions. The newest addition to its portfolio is the ProWind 800 AC. The towers come in 33-foot, 45-foot and 60-foot heights. Its potential output depends on the wind "density" and can reach up to 5090 kilowatt-hours annually, in Class 7 wind conditions. The company doesn't post pricing information on its Web site, but coverage of the company suggests you can invest in both the product and installation for about $8,700.

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3 of 5 Heather Clancy/ZDNet

As of June 2011, select Home Depot locations in the United States began selling and installing the Skystream small-wind turbine from Southwest Windpower. Participating states include California, Texas, Nevada, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Said Southwest Windpower CEO Dixon Thayer: "The Skystream install program represents Southwest Windpower's commitment to making renewable energy affordable and accessible to consumers everywhere." The Skystream 3.7 has a rated capacity of 2.4-kilowatt hours and it can produce up to 400 kilowatt-hours per month. Pricing depends on where you are, but the generator itself starts around $6,200, while a 33.5-foot pole starts around $3,900; a bolt kit will run another $500 or so.

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4 of 5 Heather Clancy/ZDNet

The 600-watt wind turbine from Sunforce Products is an even smaller wind option from Home Depot. For a mere $749, you get a dimunitive renewable energy source that mainly servers as a backup power supply and lets you charge 12-volt and 24-volt batteries off the grid. The rotor measures just over 2 feet and the blades are made out of fiberglass. The company touts the Sunforce wind turbine's do-it-yourself installation implications, but obviously this isn't going to be a primary energy source.

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5 of 5 Heather Clancy/ZDNet

The Honeywell Windtronics WT6500 Wind Turbine can be purchased through hardware stores, including Ace and True Value locations. The first thing you will notice is that this technology doesn't look like your typical turbine. That is because it uses magnets and stators to capture wind power potential at the tip of the blade (where the speed is the highest). The 6500 model can produce up to 1500 kilowatt-hours per year, depending on height and location. The turbine itself measures 6 feet in diameter and weighs 241 pounds. It can start at speeds as low as 0.5 miles per hour. (Competitive designs traditionally require speeds of at least 7.5 miles per hour. The generator itself starts around $6,400 (not include the pole mount), which incluces the company's SmartBox control system for helping manage the energy product by the turbine.

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