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Test the Wind Speed via iPhone and Mariah Power

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mariahpower1Apple’s (s APPL) iPhone has apps for Car 2.0, for home energy management and for fuel efficiency. Now here’s one for clean power that I wasn’t expecting to see: a wind speed tester courtesy of small wind turbine maker Mariah Power. Todd Woody profiles the app in the New York Times’ Green Inc. blog this morning, and says the application uses the iPhone’s microphone to capture the sound of the wind and then utilizes an algorithm to tune out the surrounding noise and calculate the wind decibel speed.

Voila, you have a handy-dandy way of finding out if your backyard (or rooftop) would make a good location for a small wind turbine. (iPhone apps Wind Meter and Wind Speed also do this.) Presumably, farmers, residents and companies putting up larger wind turbines in rural areas, and making money off of wind power, will want to check wind mapping charts and lean on a reliable way to test wind speeds. Launching the application is probably as much about marketing Mariah’s brand name as it is about offering a real tool.

But Mariah — named for the song “They Call the Wind Mariah” from the Clint Eastwood musical film “Paint Your Wagon,” — has real technology of its own. The 4-year-old company based in Reno, Nev., builds a slim 30-foot-tall vertical-axis turbine that can turn low-speed gusts of wind into electricity. The turbine costs about $4,000, plus $1,000 for installation, has straight blades that spin vertically to produce up to 1.2 kilowatts of power — roughly 2,000 kilowatt-hours per year — and delivers a cost of ownership of 12.4 cents per kilowatt-hour over 20 years. The company also claims the vertical axis enables the turbine to spin more slowly — just two to three times the speed of the wind — making it quieter than the usual pinwheel-shaped turbines.

Late last year, Mariah raised its second round of funding from Noventi Ventures, Greenhouse Capital, BigSky Partners and the Sierra Angels. The company only officially launched the turbine, Windspire, in June, and says by last November it had received more than 4,000 orders. By the end of this year, Mariah has said, it hopes to ramp up to 1,000 turbines per month in production.

The iPhone has clearly emerged as the platform of choice for mobile innovation, with its easy-to-use developer tools, and interesting device functions (microphone, GPS, and motion capabilities). Early adopter iPhone users are also the types that are increasingly interested in clean power — if their residents could support a small wind turbine, they would surely want to know about it.

The idea of installing small wind tubines — defined as 100 kilowatts or less by wind trade group the American Wind Energy Association — has emerged over the past year as a growing trend. Well, the small wind biz can go nowhere but up, given the vast majority of wind turbines are large utility scale beasts. But according to the AWEA, the small wind industry in the U.S. grew 78 percent in 2008 to 80 MW, adding 17.3 MW of installed capacity. That’s up from a growth of just 14 percent in 2007.

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