Small Wind, Big Market: 4 Wee Wind Startups

looking-up-to-windspire1.jpgWhile the vast majority of U.S. wind generation comes from massive utility wind farms planted across stretches of our nation’s wind-blessed land, a few startups are beginning to offer smaller scale, lower-cost turbines that can fit into more compact spaces and are geared at a less commercial type of customer.

Mariah Power, a Reno, Nev.-based company that makes a 30-foot tall, $4,000 turbine, is one of the startups that’s been making some headway with its lil’ wind gear. The company raised a Series A round from The Sierra Angels of Incline Village, Nev., and The Keiretsu Forum of Lafayette, Calif., and announced recently that the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory will be testing its wind turbine.

The company is hoping that the propeller-free design and of its 1,800 kilowatt hours per year “Windspire” turbine will help push forward the small-scale wind movement. According to the American Wind Energy Association the small scale wind industry, which is defined as 100 kilowatt capacity or below, has been experiencing major growth in the past decade and hopes to grow at 18 to 20 percent through 2010.

Mariah says its customers only need roughly 11-mile-per-hour average wind speeds, and half an acre of land. And the company says the $4,000 price tag is about half to a third less than other renewable power options.

marquisswindpower.jpgMariah isn’t the only one making progress. Last month, Marquiss Wind Power said it had raised $1.3 million in a Series A funding for its uniquely designed small-scale rooftop wind turbines. Their Aeropoint product is based on the “ducted wind turbine,” is just under 20 feet tall and boasts a square-shaped frame, and is intended for businesses that want to add a bit of clean energy to the mix. (See photo.)

newearth1.jpgIn November we interviewed the CEO of the San Diego-based small-scale wind makers New Earth, Ian Gardner. He told us the company, which makes the “Helix Wind” double-helix designed system (see photo), was looking to raise a Series A round “in the neighborhood of $3 million to $5 million,” for its vertical-axis design. It’s pretty slick looking, no?

The established firm in the mix of newer players is Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Southwest Wind Power. The company has been selling its small-scale wind hardware for two decades, and says it’s already sold more than 100,000 of its more traditional-looking turbines.

Southwest sells its turbine gear through dealerships (many can be found in California) with prices ranging from $600 to $3,000. Our own Alexis Madrigal actually spotted one of Southwest’s turbines in the urban Mission district of San Francisco (check out the video, if you haven’t already).

So who’s buying up this wee wind? Businesses and remote residents that want to go clean and save some money in the long term, as well as niche industrial applications like backup power for telecommunications towers. The American Wind Energy Association says the U.S. leads the world in production of small wind turbines.

But the technology still makes up a tiny part of the overall U.S. wind-generation market, with average commercial turbines offering between 1.5 MW to 2.5 and even 3 MW. In reality, wind systems aren’t yet DIY enough to easily install on your own, nor do they work very well in areas that don’t have a lot of land.

That’s what these startups are trying to do, to come up with better designs that can shrink the systems, and make them safer and easier to plug in. As climate change concerns turn renewable energy into a hot topic, more residents and small businesses are looking into how big of an impact small wind can make.