Wind makes like a cell phone, gets small and cheap

Enormous, utility scale wind turbines have the most sex appeal, but costs are falling for wind generation at all scales. The day may come when your rooftop windmill costs less than your TV.

In some cases, costs are dropping not as a result of technological innovation but as consequence of smart reuse. As the early wind farms created decades ago become decommissioned and replaced by much bigger installations, an industry has sprung up to salvage the old turbines, refurbish them, and sell them on the cheap.

Not only do these midsize turbines cost about half as much as they would new, but waiting times for delivery are significantly shorter. The older turbines are well-suited for schools, businesses, or rural communities with modest power needs. Typically, refurbishment also includes some technological upgrades, such as electronic controls that can be accessed via the Internet.

Recycled turbines are cheap, but still far out of reach for homeowners. If Chad Maglaque, inventor of The Jellyfish, has his way, you’ll be able to walk into a big box retailer and, for a few hundred bucks, walk out with one of these:

The Jellyfish uses a simple motor akin to the one in a household blender to produce power. Simply mount the turbine on your roof and plug it into a standard socket. Rather than drawing a current, it produces one, and any electricity you don’t use is fed back into the grid.

The Jellyfish doesn’t produce an enormous amount of power, but it does pay itself back in about seven years under typical conditions. If it only costs as much as an iPod, that’s an expense many homeowners may be willing to bear.

The product is eligible to win $10 million in financing through the Google Idea Contest. If you’re a fan of the concept, head on over to the contest web site to vote.

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  1. Linda Flores-Tober - February 4, 2009

    I’m buying three, maybe five for our shelters. Finally, an affordable way of going green. Thanks Jellyfish!

  2. R.E. Professional - February 4, 2009

    Please, NO! Has anyone looked into the vibration this contraption will create on the roof? And the noise that that vibration will create? Put one of these on your house and expect your whole house to hum. And how about the frequency with which this toy will need to have moving parts replaced?!? This is a gadget, created by a gadgeteer feeding on the good will of people like us. Please PLEASE spend you hard-earned money on time-tested, reliable renewable energy technologies!

  3. Anonymous - February 4, 2009

    I feel this has a place. At least give it a try if the price is right!

  4. Peter - February 4, 2009

    “A” for effort, D- for results. 7 year payback….come on, will it last seven years, I doubt it.
    Innovation will eventually set us free so I applaud this effort but PLEASE don’t rush out to buy one. I agree with an earlier post, there are MANY time tested reliable conservation and renewable technologies that should be leveraged first.

  5. hadtoreply - February 4, 2009

    Vertical wind is a good concept for homes and small business – no matter the ROI. They provide usable savings today and protect against high fuel/energy cost tomorrow. If it’s cheap today people will buy it, and the rest of us will get used to seeing them in action = good thing, even if it doesn’t last for seven years.
    (Anyone who is concerned about noise, humming and vibration obviously hasn’t been near a typical vertical wind generator, all that stuff is typical for horizontal bladed devices).

  6. Good Grief - February 4, 2009

    An interesting, yet essentially worthless idea. If it only costs a few hundred to buy and the payback is seven years, then it’s only producing less than $50 worth of power a year. Now, who among you uses only $50 in a month, let alone a year. I would need close to 50 of these units running simultaneously…

  7. Mark - February 4, 2009

    many people buying products like this are buying emotionally not economicly. They feel beter about themselves if they just “do something” They would be beter off planting a tree.

  8. JD - February 4, 2009

    IT is a start. Noise and vibration are not an issue, that is if live in anything other than a cardboard box. The noise and vibration would be no more than that of wind speed meter.
    I would personally rather see each city with a small Navy ship sized Nuclear reactor or several based on population and use needs. We need Nuclear power and we can do it fast and it would create lots of jobs, unlike the current administrations pay back and reelection plan that will put us in a faster downward spiral.

  9. rraabfaber - February 4, 2009

    Interesting choice of words there; “contraption.” Same word they used for the automobile, the phone, the phonograph, or television were in the early days.
    I’m quite sure that someone has looked into vibration and such. And there probably will be some. But the idea itself is great and with use, will come refinements. Look how bad cellular phone technology, or home computers were in the early days. All those little things like vibrations and noise will work themselves out.
    My only 2 questions are, how great can the savings be if it takes seven years to pay off something the cost of an iPod? And what sort of bird-protection does it have? I’d hate to have dead birds scattered about my roof.
    Still, the allure of home-produced energy is great. All those other alt-energy sources are great, but there is still some company that has makes a fortune running the lines and bringing the power to your house to get it.

  10. LCL - February 4, 2009

    Living in Seattle, I first read about the Jellyfish in mid-January. My initial question was (and still is): the inventor claims he made the prototype for under $100, but will retail it for $400-500. At that retail cost, the payback is several years, making one (or many) wonder what the benefit is. If he can make one for $100, why not retail at that cost? Why keep “being green” a thing for the rich?

  11. JB - February 4, 2009

    I realize that we have to walk before we can run, but if this costs about what an iPod costs, and it takes seven years to recoup, it hardly seems worth it to me.

  12. Adam Stein - February 4, 2009

    @LCL: Maybe because a prototype isn’t a fully functioning version. A prototype doesn’t need to last several years, or incorporate safety features, or even perform very well. Nor does a prototype include labor or distribution costs.

  13. Peter - February 4, 2009

    If you can buy a 20 inch steel cage box fan in the United States, copper wound motor, controls etc. for $20 bucks at Home Depot/Lowes, it seems to me that you could get to $100 easily if mass produced in the same type of factory. How about some of Obama’s $800 Billion getting to this kind of work. I hope so.

  14. Russ in San Diego - February 4, 2009

    You’re absolutely right — but so long as the buyer recognizes the fact that this is not a financially sensible purchase — why not? After all, most PV systems (such as the one I’ve got) are not likely to reach financial breakeven within 15 years (I’m probably halfway there). I knew it when I bought it, though. I find it to be a lot more fun that had I blown it on, say, an SUV!

  15. Joel Gagnon - February 4, 2009

    The bigger problem is the interconnectivity issue. You can’t just plug something like this in and potentially feed back into the utility lines, creating a hazard in the event of a power outage. There are some pretty heavy duty rules to address this concern, and meeting them adds costs — lots of them.

  16. Patricia - February 4, 2009

    I’m glad to see some progress in this area, but having to wait 7 years for it to pay off $200 or $300 does not seem too appealing at this point. Great technology to keep an eye on, but maybe five or ten years down the road it will be able to produce more power.

  17. Sarah - February 4, 2009

    What about selling desings for a do-it-yourself build? Or even desgins and parts to construct yourself? It could save a lot of money on labor.

  18. Steve Snyder - February 4, 2009

    Sometimes I think all the worry about payback time is a bit misplaced. I mean what is the payback time for that new sofa you bought or that new jacket? Or new stereo, car, refrigerator etc… We generally don’t think about payback for such items because they have some use or aesthetic value. In the case of home wind or PV, they have both.
    Anyway, if you are really concerned about payback, forget wind or pv and concentrate on something less sexy like making your house more energy efficient, driving 55 instead of 70 etc

  19. Chuck - February 4, 2009

    I’m surprised people are judging the turbine even though there isn’t enough information to form a valid opinion. The phrase “will pay for itself in seven years” also needs to include an estimate for mean time of failure. For example, assuming 3% inflation for both electricity and turbine costs, here is a short table of annual rate of return for different mean time failure rates. The table also assumes the owner buys a new turbine at the mean time of failure:
    5 years MTF: -25.3%
    10 years MTF: -3.47%
    15 years MTF: 3.53%
    20 years MTF: 6.67%
    25 years MTF: 8.37%
    30 years MTF: 9.44%
    The way I see it, if the turbines last 20 or more years, they are a better investment then all “safer” forms of investment (ignoring the long term energy supply benefits).

  20. Wendy - February 4, 2009

    In Europe you can purchase this type of D-I-Y product in the equivalent of Home Depot, put it on your garage to make it self-sufficient. See larger versions around London generating energy at gas stations. The technology seems to arrive here 10 years later (like Smart cars) when it’s been tried and tested elsewhere.

  21. rraabfaber - February 4, 2009

    Very good point, Steve. I guess even if you didn’t save on what you spent on it, there’s still the fact that it’s clean — which is the point, isn’t it?

  22. Pam Berger - February 4, 2009

    There was a company in Scotland that had produced a practical wind turbine system for residential roofs. The last I checked they were being installed by a utility company on the homes of ordinary people in the UK. The company had a design that solved the vibration problem.

  23. AB - February 5, 2009

    I say both. Please reward this dude by employing this device somewhere, now. This is part of the solution, and the innovations that stem from this will pay off in the long run. What would happen if there weren’t those to venture as one of “the first”? As a wise man once said, “do something, make it your best decision, but do something – it’s always better than doing nothing!” Then plant 2 trees.

  24. Anonymous - February 5, 2009

    That’s a huge issue. The equipment required to feed power back into the grid safely and to the standards that the grid requires is not cheap. Getting cheaper, but still not cheap.
    It’s always easy to come up with a solution to a problem when you don’t understand all the implications.

  25. Rick - February 5, 2009

    There have to be early adopters for every innovative technology. This one seems like a good, sensible idea. I’m sure that with improvements, over the years, these will become cheaper and quieter and get better ROI and all that… but in the beginning, it will not be perfect. Neither was the iPhone, PC, fax machine, personal computer, etc. Early adopters pay for a little cache, which *is* an emotional thing. And so what? Feeling good is good for ya. :)

  26. Phoenix Woman - February 5, 2009

    I wish all the people attacking the Jellyfish would have bothered to read the FAQs on the Jellyfish website before setting fingers to keyboard. Here are some of the FAQs:
    Can the Jellyfish provide backup power in the event of a power outage?
    The Jellyfish is not intended to provide backup power when there

  27. Peter B - February 6, 2009

    How well does it survive a high wind? Many years ago, working on a radio-astronomy site, a couple of us built a small wind pump to filter water in an old swimming pool, from old bicycle parts. In our case, any electrical equipment would interfere with the highly sensitive radio-astronomy receivers. A couple of days later, it had fallen apart after a high overnight wind. Otherwise, it seems like a nice idea, a good supplement to my photovoltaic system.

  28. Jack M. - February 6, 2009

    [Ed. -- points for troll creativity! Climate change is caused by sun spots, but climate change is also caused by windmills! Who knew?]

  29. Anonymous - February 6, 2009

    Logic can overwhelm the best of us. ;~)

  30. GetCaughtDead - February 9, 2009

    I pay about $25/mo for electricity (I have gas heat and live alone) and I would totally invest a couple grand into a half dozen of these, not just because I’d save a few bucks on electricity, but also because I’d be doing something great for my impact on the planet. I’m sure many people would rather spend their money on an iPod, but there are plenty of us who would get far more use out of a turbine and some peace of mind.

  31. Bekki - February 23, 2009

    Pam, can you provide info on this? I have friends in the UK who would be interested– also what are the chances it could be marketed here?
    Thanks
    Bekki

  32. Lanna Seuret - March 3, 2009

    RE has a good point. Enviro Energies has developed
    a Mag-lev Vertical Axis (residential) Wind Turbine
    that looks like either a turban or pole with big
    scoops that generates 1,100 kWh on a 13 mph average
    wind per month. Here in Sacramento, 7mph wind is
    average, but will still give me more kwh than I use.
    Because it is magneticallylevitated,the noise is not a factor in this model,but is costs about $6,000. This one featured looks very interesting, and I have confidence that the buzz will eventually be dealt with, but I recommend anyone doing more research
    before purchasing. I, too, have an emotional reaction to these inventions, and just want to do
    whatever it takes to be sustainable, but this has to
    be offset by how disappointed I will feel if my hard earned money is wasted.

  33. Peter B - March 3, 2009

    Looks like a nice wind power generator. The cost is ~$7000, and you will probably need in inverter (~$2500). Note that at low speeds, the power generated will go roughly as the square of the wind speed, so counting 7 m.p.h. as half of 13 m.p.h, your power would be ~1/4 of the “month at 13 m.p.h.” amount. But according to the chart on their web site, a 1.5 kW generator, running at 13 m.p.h, generates only about 1/3rd to 1/5th of the full-wind power (depending on the actual model), or ~200-450W. This generating rate for a full month (720 hours), would be well under 1,500 kWh, more like 150-300 kWh, in fact the “1500 kWh” amount comes from a full (“max”) 2kW for a full month, requiring a wind of over 27 m.p.h. 24 hours a day, even for the most favorable conditions. At 7 m.p.h., your results would be a lot less. So it may not be “more than you need”. The price would be about half of what I just paid for a nominal 3kW solar-voltaic installation, which in the last few winter months has generated between 139 (December) and 184 (February) kWh.

  34. sol-utions - June 5, 2009

    R.E. Professional is right, this is a whirly-gig project. Do the research on wind turbines–there are good home-crafted projects and off-the-shelf (SW Windpower, for example) that are proven and reliable, and you cannot just plug into the grid and expect some return without other associated hardware to buffer/convert up to 120v AC. This particular “egg beater” turbine might look efficient, but it is the bottom of the technology scale, and there is vibration, when coupled into the roof/framing of your house that will be more noticeable than a box fan! Put a few up on your roof, and I’d bet you a lottery ticket that you’ll be the laughing stock of your home owners association!

  35. Peter B - June 5, 2009

    Update on solar system: has generated 355kWh in March, 440kWh in April (just under our usage), and 550kWh in May (125% of our usage). At a net cost under 2% of the (guessed) resale value of our house, I am happy with it.

  36. Peter B - June 5, 2009

    I wonder what JD proposes to do with the Plutonium produced by more nuclear reactors. So far all that produced in the US (in addition to that recovered from de-commissioned weapons) is stored in “temporary” sites, and the only approved site for the long-term storage appears to be geologically unstable, it’s “suitability” apparently based on its remoteness (an obscure corner of Nevada) coupled with the low political impact of its (few) neighbors. And the half-life of Plutonium is around 25,000 years, so 6% is still around 100,000 years from now, more than 20 times the apparent history of civilization, and of the same order of magnitude as that of our species.
    Re-use also seems to still be problematic, even though a better solution, judging by the recent furor over a shipment to Japan from France.

  37. veek - November 18, 2009

    Hint: you may want to check in with your homeowner’s insurance policy before spending too much money on this. A friend of ours had a set of solar panels on her house and a tornado destroyed them this year (it took out a good part of the house).
    She didn’t give the price of the panels but we priced a set for our house last year and I’d estimate it cost about $15 K.
    Her insurance reimbursed her $2K.
    She will not be replacing the panels.

  38. Peter B - November 19, 2009

    Her house is hit by a tornado, and she blames the solar panels? And her insurance company does not pay for the damage? Either the panels were not properly mounted (so she should get the installer to pay), or she has a bad insurance policy.
    Update on our solar panels; they have generated about 75% of our electricity in the year since they were installed.

  39. mariet - November 19, 2009

    Where can I buy this? At last, something that would work well on our roof, and not interfere with neighbors’ comments if we had a windmill – not an option anyway, as it would not pass the village board. Also, recycling parts is an excellent idea. Please, please let me know!

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