A New Way to Buy Some Wind Power

Xzeres A 10-kilowatt wind turbine intended for a small installation.

Millions of people think about buying solar cells for their roofs, but far fewer would consider owning a wind turbine.

An Oregon manufacturer of small wind systems is trying to change that by borrowing a financial strategy from the solar industry: the customer provides a space for the equipment and buy the energy it produces, but the company owns the device, at least for the first few years.

This month the manufacturer, Xzeres, began offering its 10-kilowatt model, which sits on a tower 60 to 100 feet high, with a rotor diameter of under 24 feet. By comparison, a utility-scale wind machine has a capacity that is 100 to 200 times larger, towers as high as 300 feet, and rotor diameters of 250 feet.

But the big wind machines are owned by big companies and are becoming major parts of the big, impersonal power grid. Small systems like Xzeres’s, like solar cells, can give the impression of energy independence. (It is only an impression, though; as with solar cells, small wind installations work best when connected to the grid in an arrangement that provides a market for the energy when the customer doesn’t need it, and electricity for the customer when the wind isn’t blowing.)

Rocco Cordola, a building contractor who lives in Valencia, Calif., north of Los Angeles, just signed up for two of the 10-kilowatt machines. Mr. Cordola’s house is a moderate-size 2,500 square feet, but he also has a large swimming pool, four waterfalls and two jacuzzis, on about two acres. His electric bill runs $700 to $1,000 a month, depending on the season, he said.

Mr. Cordola said that his twin boys, age 7, were always taken with the big windmills near Palm Springs. When the family traveled there, “they would always like to go by the windmills,’’ he said. He is taken with wind, too, he said; he calls it “the next wave.”

The two machines will produce electricity equal to 85 to 90 percent of Mr. Cordola’s consumption. And in the meantime, Zxeres would handle any mechanical problems.

Many people have solar cells on their roofs, Mr. Cordola said, but he is proud to be installing the first wind machines in Valencia. The spot, said Frank P. Greco, Xzeres’s chief executive, is “O.K., a moderate site,’’ with winds of about 5 meters per second, which is 11.2 miles per hour.

Purchase and installation of such machines can run $70,000 to $95,000, depending on the height of the tower needed, the soil condition and other factors, Mr. Greco said.

Under the new business model that Xzeres hopes will increase its sales, the customer pays a price per kilowatt-hour. “We’re looking at local utility rates, and we’re offering energy at discount to that,’’ said David N. Baker, the company’s chairman.

After a certain period, depending on the rate of electricity production, the customer owns the wind machine. Depending on precisely how much the turbines in Valencia produce, ownership will revert to Mr. Cordola in eight to 10 years, Mr. Greco said.

Xzeres suggests that it will be more better equipped than its potential customers at early steps like assessing the wind speed at a site, including the effects of nearby buildings, and estimating the output of energy. “If it doesn’t financially pencil for the customer, we would tell him that,’’ Mr. Greco said.

If the site doesn’t make economic sense for the customer, it will not make sense for Xzeres either, he said.

The company may sound like it was named after some obscure figure in Greek mythology, but it is a pseudo-acronym cobbled together: the “zeres” stands for Zero Emissions Energy Sciences, and the X is shorthand for “accelerated.”

The company is bucking a trend in commercial wind machines to make them ever larger, sometimes more than 2 megawatts in capacity, to gain economies of scale. Mr. Greco said that the small ones have advantages like supplying electricity close to the point of use. The blades on giant wind machines are a major component of cost; the blades for small machines are much simpler to manufacture. And designers have made progress in building machines that need lower minimum wind speeds to begin producing electricity.

A major consideration for small wind machines is maintenance, because there is generally no on-site technician, as there is at a farm with dozens of machines. The Xzeres machine seeks to get around this problem by eliminating the gearbox, a high-maintenance item on big machines; the company connects the blades directly to the alternator.

The installation also includes an inverter, which converts the power into alternating current at the strict frequency required by the electric system.

Potential customers include farms and other small businesses with relatively large electricity demands, Mr. Greco said; the installation could consist of just one wind machine or several. Xzeres also sells a version intended for use on sailboats and can configure its product with batteries for use off the grid.

By MATTHEW L. WALD/NYT

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s