November 26, 2006
Skystream 7 For Home Wind Power

Skystream sells a home wind electric power generator kit that they claim will pay for itself in 12 years or less in California.

Depending on the wind speed average and the amount of energy consumed every month, Skystream typically lowers a household electricity bill by 20% to 90%. It is not uncommon for Skystream owners with total-electric homes to have monthly utility bills of only $8 to $15 for nine months of the year (2005 data). The amount of money a Skystream saves you in the long run will depend upon its installed cost, the amount of electricity you use, the average wind speed at your site, and other factors.

For a typical home in California, where the cost of energy is $0.14/KWh, the Skystream 3.7 will produce 400 KWh per month. This will save a household $672 per year on their utility bill. At this rate, they will pay for their Skystream system in approximately 12 years (after rebates, payback is as low as 7 years. This example assumes: $8,500 installed cost, power in an 8 MPH breeze with full output achieved at 20 mph.

Skystream lists conditions you need to meet for their product to work for you. They say you need at least a half acre of land that is unobstructed. Note that eliminates most suburban and city homes right there. Also, you need zoning permission to put up a tower 42 feet high (12.8 meters). Plus, you need a utility that'll let you sell back excess electricity. All these factors shrink the market. Though I can imagine large commercial buildings putting up a batch of these things on their roofs.

The Skystream 3.7 just won a Popular Science magazine award.

FLAGSTAFF - AZ, November 7, 2006/PRNewswire/ -- Today Southwest Windpower announced its newest product, the Skystream 3.7™, has been awarded a 2006 Best of What’s New Award from Popular Science in the Home category. Each year, Popular Science reviews thousands of new products and innovations and includes the top 100 winners in its annual Best of What’s New issue. To win, a product or technology must represent a significant step forward in its category.

“Best of What’s New is the ultimate Popular Science accolade, representing a year’s worth of work evaluating thousands of projects,” said Mark Jannot, editor of Popular Science. “These awards honor innovations that not only influence the way we live today, but that change the way we think about the future.”

Skystream is a next-generation residential power appliance that hooks up to the home to help reduce or eliminate monthly electricity costs. Skystream is the first compact, user-friendly, all-inclusive wind generator (with controls and inverter built in) designed to provide quiet, clean electricity in very low winds. With Skystream, homeowners and small business owners now have the power to choose their electricity source.

For the sake of argument let us grant them their assertion that in many homes in California the Skystream can pay itself back in 12 years or even 7 years with government rebates. So should people in the rest of the United States (or the world for that matter) rush to buy Skystreams for their homes? That depends on local conditions, and not just wind conditions.

First off, that payback time depends on the ability to sell back excess electricity to your local electric utility when the wind is blowing hard and you are not using much electricity. Now, if you always use lots of electricity that might not matter. But if you live in an area where you can't sell back excess electricity and your energy usage is highly uneven then that'll make the payback time much longer.

Second, electric costs vary considerably around the United States. Electricity costs more in California than in most states. In 2006 (and all these numbers are up sharply from 2005) California's electricity is about 14.52 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) and in New England it costs about 16.23 cents per kwh with 16.72 per kwh in New York (wow!) versus a US national average of 10.41. The mountain states pay only 9.01 and Wyoming only 7.68. Other really cheap states (generally heavy users of coal but with hydro power too) include Tennessee and Utah at 7.7, .Missouri at 7.62, Nebraska at 7,48, North Dakota at 7.11, and South Dakota at 7.87. Down at the bottom are coal states Kentucky at 7.08 and West Virginia at 6.25. Idaho appears to have the cheapest electricity in America at 6.23 cents per kwh. Outside of New England and Californa the two other high cost electric states are Alaska at 14.74 and Hawaii at an incredible 23.53.

If you live in one of higher cost states then you should find out if you can sell electricity back to your utility. If you live in Hawaii and get a fair amount of wind then the ability to sell electricity your utility probably doesn't matter. These Skystream gadgets could be just the ticket to lower electric power costs.

Unless you live in a pretty windy place it would be imprudent to install one of these things without first installing some sort of cumulative wind speed measuring device at the same altitude as you'd install this device. Or find some other way to find out what your typical wind speeds work out to.

If you live in a lower cost electricity state then you save less in two ways. First off, when you use less utility power you save less money. Second, if you can even sell electric power back to your utility you earn back less money off your electric bill.

Cheap home wind power will make battery powered cars more desirable. Imagine we get cheap high energy density batteries that'll power a car for a couple hundred miles. That'd make all undependable energy sources (e.g. wind, solar, even hydropower from streams that run only when it rains) more attractive. You come home at night, plug in the car to the wind mill, and it charges only part of the time.

With batteries to charge up you won't care whether the wind blows in the afternoon, evening, or early morning. You won't even care if it blows every day. If your car can go hundreds of miles you don't need for it to get recharged every day. You just need to average enough to keep your car ready to go.

The restrictions on wind tower installation in suburban and urban environments makes photovoltaics a better longer term bet for local generation using renewable energy sources. But photovoltaics still cost much more than wind and utility power. For people living in rural areas home wind power could become pretty popular. It will deliver power even in the short days of winter when photovoltaics will deliver less electricity. Also, it will complement solar even in the summer by delivering some power at night.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 November 26 10:55 AM  Energy Wind

Tom Wright said at November 27, 2006 6:58 AM:

The last is a very important point. As intermittent generators like sun and wind proliferate, places for storing the energy will be a growing market. One such is hybrid car batteries, another is all-battery cars like the Tesla. Copious sun and steady wind are not necessarily available where people live, but where they are available, ways of storing that electricity or other energy form will be offered. As improved storage is developed, sun and wind can be had in otherwise inhospitable places and the energy shipped to where it is used.

As the storage market develops, it will make the intermittent generators more useful. One I expect to see is the large open parking lot becoming a solar farm. Mounting panels as a roof means the lot first of all earns money empty. Second, it earns money on empty spaces while also on filled. Third, it can sell power at a markup over the sell-back rate, directly to hybrid and electric car owners. These owners would pay less for charge-up than at home, and the power seller would make more than what the utility pays.

Bobby said at November 27, 2006 7:57 PM:

Mr Wright is right i live in west texas wind energy is growing by heaps and bounds,west texas is the 5th largest country producing wind energy,But we need a way to transmitt or store that energy.

Bobby coleman
Big Country Weather-

Randall Parker said at November 27, 2006 8:53 PM:

Tom Wright,

I can think of many ways to use sporadically available energy as long as the energy is substantially cheaper than consistently available energy. For example:

1) Water pumping. Move water into towers and along aqueducts when the electricity is cheap. This requires more pump capacity since much of the time pumps won't be running. Even some irrigation can be done any time of the day and just needs to average out to the desired amount. But again, it then requires bigger pumps to move more when the electric is cheap.

2) Water heating. Imagine a water heater with 3 or 4 compartments. Heat one compartment when the wind is blowing, and then heat another if it continues to blow, and so on. Use all the water from one hot compartment before moving on to another hot compartment. If the wind starts blowing them start heating up yet another compartment's water. This requires more insulation and more containers of water. So the energy cost has to be much lower when the wind is blowing, not just slightly lower.

3) Clothes washing. Program washers to sit there and not to fill up until the wind blows enough to produce a big enough surplus to start the washing. Maybe even stop the washing part way thru if the wind slows.

4) Environmental clean up equipment. This is another variation on water pumping. Pump ground water thru filters when the wind is blowing. It takes years to clean up a site. The filtering does not have to be continuous.

5) Automated vacuuming equipment that'd only run when electric power was cheap.

6) Air conditioner that varies based on electric power costs. If you work during the day and want to come home to a cool home you just need to shoot for the right temperature when you come in the door. The house can over and under shoot the ideal temperature while you are gone. It could go way low in the mid afternoon because electric was so cheap that the air conditioner could run full blast. Then the wind might stop and the house would start warming but still be cool enough when you arrive. It requires a bigger air conditioner to make work. Again, the trade-off between equipment size and variably priced electric power.

7) High salt water or other liquids could be used to cool down way below 0 to store cold for air conditioning. Similar substances could store heat.

So storage of electricity isn't the only option for using power which is inconsistently available. Many processes can be tailored and programmed to run when the power is cheap.

Brian said at November 28, 2006 6:46 AM:

Wind power is already very popular in places like southwestern Minnesota where several hundred large wind turbines have been constructed and more are going up every year. These are commercial wind farms that sell directly to power companies and not for individual use. This is a prairie environment with a significant ridge that has some of the most consistent winds in the nation. Historically, wind power has been very important in prairie regions with every farm having a windmill to pump water prior to electrification in the 1930s and 1940s. Also, at the turn of the century, many of these farmers used their windmills for electricity through the attachment of small power generators. These generators did not provide power-on-demand, but instead charged batteries, which were used in devices like radios. Modern farming is very electricity intensive if livestock is involved and it is quite conceivable that farmers once again will be putting up windmills on their farms if considerable cost savings ensue. The above article is certainly interesting in a scientific and energy way as well as an example of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

chessley said at January 9, 2007 7:06 PM:

i am living in the caribbean, and i am seeking infomation about setting up a wind farm in my country. is it worthwhile, we have the potential to be hit by a hurricane, will the wind gen stand up in these conditions

Dan Brown said at November 12, 2011 7:18 PM:

The restrictions on wind tower installation in residential neighborhoods makes solar a better longer term bet for local generation with renewable energy. Once solar is common and even socially expected on every possible residential application, will renewable energy at the residential level be ready for wind turbines throughout suburbia.

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