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With gearless Honeywell turbine, WindTronics ushers in urban wind power

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Muskegon, Mich.-based WindTronics is preparing to roll out its clever Honeywell Wind Turbine, which can begin generating power in wind speeds as low as two miles per hour.

Muskegon, Mich.-based WindTronics is preparing to roll out its clever Honeywell Wind Turbine, which can begin generating power in wind speeds as low as two miles per hour.

The turbine is fascinating because it's really a generator. Instead of waiting for wind to push strong enough to get the blades of a traditional turbine going from the middle, the gearless Honeywell turbine creates power at its blade tips.

Here's how it works: A system of magnets and stators around its outer ring captures power at the tips of the blades, where the speed is the greatest. The turbine is freewheeling and can turn to follow the wind. As it spins, power is transferred to a "Smart Box," which uses two deep cycle batteries to store and buffer the energy, as well as regulate it as it enters the electrical panel.

Thanks to its design, there's a considerable lack of mechanical resistance compared to a traditional turbine. Better still, it's much quieter thanks to very little vibration.

But perhaps best of all, that design allows the turbine to generate energy with winds as low as two miles per hour (or approx. 3 kilometers per hour). That's much lower than a traditional turbine, which requires a minimum speed of 7.5 mph, or approx. 12 kph.

WindTronics says the turbine is able to produce 2,752 kWh per year in Class 4 winds at 33 ft., or about the height of a four-story office building.

According to the company, that kind of energy is worth roughly 20 percent of an average household's annual electricity needs.

(According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Class 4 winds are found in exposed coastal areas in the Northeast from Maine to New Jersey and in the Northwest southward to northern California, as well as the area around the Great Lakes.)

The turbine itself measures 6 feet in diameter and weighs 170 lbs. It's made to be installed on a pole on your roof, or on a commercial building (including in arrays), and pretty much anywhere you get regular gusts of wind -- including urban areas.

A few more specs about the turbine:

  • Made of polycarbonate, aluminum and steel
  • Wildlife distinguishable (birds can see and avoid it)
  • Power directly to electrical panel or Grid Tie to utility
  • Installation: rooftop (requires 2 ft. clearance), side mount, platform mount, pole mount
  • Fewer moving parts than traditional turbines means less maintenance
  • Lowest kWh installed turbine on the market in size and class
  • Federal and state tax rebates will cover 30 to 80 percent of consumer's cost
  • Five-year warranty; designed to last 20 years

I was able to get an up-close look at the turbine on Friday at the Trump SoHo hotel in New York City, and I can attest that it looks much like a high-tech bicycle wheel, spokes and all. (OK, maybe not the neodymium magnets.)

The question, of course, is whether a turbine of this size can generate enough money to justify its cost. Renewable energy expert Paul Gipe has written extensively about the hype surrounding urban wind turbines, and his take is that if you want real wind power in the city, you need to go "big" -- as in pony up for a tall, co-owned "big wind" turbine.

Ace Hardware will be the first retailer to sell the Honeywell turbine, which will retail for $6,495 and be available in August. (The price includes the turbine's "Smart Box" energy management system that connects and regulates electricity.)

It will also be available through Honeywell, utilities, distributors, contractors and other retailers.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure