Windspire: Propeller-Free Household Turbine Gets Approval

by Justin Thomas •

We just featured the largest wind turbine in the world, now here’s something at the opposite end of the spectrum: a household wind turbine. In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of mini-wind turbines that haven’t turned out to be very useful. But the Windspire turbine from Mariah Power sounds interesting. The Windspire has a propeller-free vertical-axis design, and is expected to produce about 1800 kilowatt hours per year in 11 mph average wind conditions. That amount of wind power is roughly 25% of a typical household’s energy (or much more if you are particularly energy efficient).

The Windspire is 30 feet tall with a two foot radius, sized below typical residential zoning restrictions. Guidelines for installation sites are generally half an acre of land and relatively windy locations. The Winspire has just passed the ETL safety certification, which means it’s ready to go to market. It is expected to be released this spring, and priced at $3,995.


Windspire features a fully integrated, plug ‘n produce design, including a high efficiency generator, integrated inverter, and wireless performance monitor. The integrated design allows for simple installation (estimated to cost around $1,000). It incorporates a slow speed giromill rotor for virtually silent operation and improved safety and durability. It connects to the household power supply, offsetting electricity use and at times running the electricity meter backwards.

You can also get this wind turbine painted any color you like, to match the surroundings, to stand out as piece of functional art.

Comments 57

  1. Sadly, these turbines do not work at all. We are the proud owners of $14,000 worth of non producing Windspires. In sixteen months of usage, the largest amount of electricity produced was a whopping .80 worth. That’s right, EIGHTY CENTS. We have attempted to work with the company on obtaining functioning replacements for over a year, all to no avail. Although the various company representatives insist they will make good and replace their “defective” (their words, not mine) turbines and inverters, they have been unable and/or unwilling to do so. I cannot recommend this product or this company. Run, do not walk, but run away from this fiasco. Caveat emptor!

    1. Thanks for the review Donald. Do you by chance have an update as to weather or not the company has made things right with you or if you ever got the windspires to work properly?

  2. what is the lowest cost, for a home with installation in the texas area corpus christi tx.

  3. No shadows? Both photos clearly show shadows being cast by the spire.

    In the left photo the bottom ring of the spire is casting a crescent-shaped shadow on the inverted cup at the top of the mast that the spire is mounted on.

    In the right photo the spire and mast are casting a clearly visible shadow to the right starting at the base of the mast.

  4. No shadows? I can clearly see shadows in both photos.

    In the left photo there is a crescent-shaped shadow on the inverted cup at the top of the pole holding the spire.

    In the right photo the sun is shining from the left. The rocks are casting shadows to the right. The pole holding the spire is also casting a shadow to the right.

    But what would a lack of shadows prove? That the photographer used a flash during the day time to eliminate shadows? That is a common practice when photographing people in the sun to eliminate harsh shadows and reduce the contrast of a photo.

  5. In my opinion the green movement has repeatedly shot itself in the foot. Initially it seems like a great idea to promote a green technology by calculating how much money will be saved in a certain number of years. “This investment will pay for itself in X years. After that, you start earning money.”

    It’s nice, when that actually happens. But what if it doesn’t pay off in an amount of time considered to be a good investment? With this mentality, the decision maker decides not to do what would be good for the environment, people and animals.

    With our economy in the state it’s currently in, there are a lot of people (including myself) that are struggling to stay alive. They are having to watch every dollar they spend and my following comments may not apply to them. But think about those that have a decent job. Are all of their decisions based on the cost of something?

    We could take food for lunch to work each day and save perhaps $5 or more a day. That comes out to about $100 a month. Many choose the more expensive restaurant option. Why? They like the food, the convenience or the atmosphere. The monetary issue is not an issue for them.

    Consider the cars people purchase. They could buy a Prius for $22,000 and save a lot of gas. But many choose to pay much more:
    Lexus ES 350: $35,000
    Mercedes C300: $35,000
    Cadillac CTS: $40,000
    Corvette: $50,000
    Hummer H2: $60,000
    Are any of these decisions based on payback? No car salesman would base his pitch on the idea that the car would pay for itself in a certain number of years. And no buyer even considers that possibility. These more expensive cars are bought because of greater comfort, aesthetics, prestige or performance. Cars depreciate quickly in just a few years. A large part of the purchase price is lost. They are often much more expensive to maintain and repair. But that doesn’t prevent people that can afford them from buying those cars. People are very willing to put out a lot of money on something they like, for whatever reason that is in each case. How many people love the idea of their neighbors seeing them leaving and returning in their expensive car?

    Is it not equally feasible that some people might get the same feeling about having a solar water heater or photovoltaic system on their roof or a wind turbine in their backyard? “Look at us. We’ve got the latest technology to produce all our own electricity. We aren’t polluting the air. We aren’t sending our money to the arabs to buy oil to produce electricity. We helped create jobs here in the US. We don’t have to worry about future electricity price increases because we included it in our home mortgage when the home was built and our mortgage is fixed for 30 years.”

    Including a wind turbine, photovoltaic or pico hydroelectric system for $30,000 in the purchase of your new home would increase your mortgage by $180 a month. (At 6% interest a fixed 30-year mortgage costs $6 a month for each $1,000). If your electric bill would otherwise have been $100 a month, the green choice is only costing you $80 a month extra. There are a lot of people that could afford that extra expense. And as electricity rates go up in the next 30 years, the difference comes down further.

    The greens should stop shooting themselves in the foot. Stop making a financial payback the major (or only) focus in making green decisions. Money is not the top priority for everyone. There are other issues that are important to a lot of people and their numbers are increasing as they learn about the other issues: health for humans and animals, job creation, protection of the environment, balance of trade deficit due to imports of oil, preservation of natural resources that have better uses than just being burned, energy independence, global warming, the prestige that early adopters enjoy and the good feeling some people get from knowing that they have made a decision that is good in some way.

    I look forward to the time when articles like this one about a wind turbine act as a catalyst for a discussion of other relevant issues. Wind turbines only produce electricity if the wind is strong enough. Does it blow year round or only during a portion of the year? How many tons of carbon dioxide aren’t released into the atmosphere with an annual production of 1800 kilowatt hours? Who is testing wind turbines under identical conditions and comparing the results regarding the lowest wind speed to produce electricity, output at various speeds, noise produced and cost? Who is providing financing for green improvements to homes?

  6. Looking 4 Green Citizens, the Few the Proud the…..
    The discussion are informative and as I endeavor to become better informed, about all the issues above.
    i.e. environmental payback VS the personal payback schema
    There’s this mind set that has to be overcome initially about all this. CHANGE,
    it doesn’t seem to register, especially those who can afford an assortment of personal items collected over the years, let’s use 10 yrs as an example.
    Purchases, including but not limited: SUV, Boats, motorcycles just to ring bells and blow whistles, some exceeding 25K and financed at 5-18 percent over time and depreciate in the first year 12-20- 30% ?? This is the mind set to overcome because for the most part its the equivalent to most common systems that integrate one or more of these alternative resources. Not only do they add value your home or business,but in the bigger sense, your becoming better stewards of the big blue marble we call EARTH.
    However, no one blinks and eye at these purchases and many spend a year and a considerable amount of time with car sales people, shopping until the market is right to buy. While some just buy on credit (the instant gratification genre)
    I close with that in mind, when will we get it, when will people understand and get to that point in co~generation co~operative Coalitions, where Co~investment owned affordable resources are at the forefront of our nations leaders and our citizens in our communities respectfully/
    Don’t wait for your GOvernment to come up with solution, you all can make those decision in your own community now. Waiting has proven to become a legislative death process, as one person after another group defines all we treasure in their effort to stall out time after time, and it continues to be focal point for more Americans dying in Vain of reducing / Controlling efforts to stay Grid tied & Gagged ?
    If we survive the next industrial age in using Alternative energy resources and someone is still around, it will be a story of the few, the proud, the citizens who stood united to bring about change for affordable renewable DO-able alternative resources. Or it will be a story of how citizens pitifully refused to invest in our EARTH’s future, and its natural resources and we wasted our valuable time on trickery and small trinkets of self worth.
    Become an advocate for affordable renewable resources in your community, be it on line or more effectively actually doing something physically, financially investing to support and bring about these causes.
    The IOWA community did just that in 2007 and got a 3-1 return on their investment, making those changes that brought about energy effiecientcy, wow when was the last time you personally had a ROI like that in the Stock market.
    Selfishness is a disease of the mind and it kills our spirit in unity. I can’t tell you how often it sickens me to see people siting in their SUV’s with engines running for half an hour or more while in a parking lot talking on their cell phone. While the young and old Veterans return to the theater of war a number of times to face attack after attack, for what, for your principles, for what then, ask your self and decide what needs to happen in in each of us, in your little corner of the world for you to overcome the mentality of change, to think about all we hold sacred and treasure ?
    People are dying over seas for people like you who sit there nice and warm, people swore an oath of allegiance to protect your way of life.

  7. The green movement, I believe, shot itself repeatedly in the foot by promoting green decisions based on an economical payback. Once again we see people rejecting possibly good solutions because they don’t pay for themselves in a certain period of time or even ever.

    However, the fact remains that virtually all of us make decisions daily regardless of the economics because we want something. Why do so many choose to spend much more money on meals at restaurants rather than eat at home? Why does someone spend so much more money on a Hummer, Cadillac or Mercedes rather than on a less expensive car? Obviously they don’t calculate how quickly the car will pay for itself. They are paying much more for the prestige or fun of driving that car and they aren’t a bit concerned that it will be worth almost nothing in maybe ten years. Why shouldn’t someone spend $5,000 or $40,000 on a solar hot water heater, a wind turbine or a photovoltaic system because of the prestige or good feeling they get from having one of those systems on their home?

    Unfortunately many make decisions solely on the basis of finances and often how they personally can profit the most. But there are many issues that have financial consequences that are not easily calculated. How much does impaired health due to air pollution cost our society in medical bills, higher health insurance costs and reduced productivity? And let’s not forget that the polluters pollute everybody’s air, not just their own. Your health suffers perhaps because of another person’s decision to pollute. Your breathing is impaired. Your quality of life is diminished. Your medical expenses go up. Is that person doing the polluting not being selfish?

    There are so many good reasons to choose green alternatives. We should promote a mentality that sees other values and issues than just $$$$$$:
    * Preservation of our environment for the health and enjoyment of all currently living and future generations.
    * Limiting the burning of oil that can be used for the production of higher quality products.
    * Keeping more of our money in our country instead of giving it to another country that possibly uses it to buy our companies.
    * Buying technology, products and services that are produced in our country and promote jobs here.
    * Reducing our dependence on other countries’ production of resources.
    * Reducing our incentive to go to war with other countries because we feel it is our “right” to get their resources at the prices we want to pay.
    * Insuring the long-term sustainability of our existence.

    There are a lot of good reasons to be green. Let’s promote all of them.

  8. Energy conservation – The transition

    For the past several years, all the debates and analyses related to the use of primary energies are influenced by a set of incontrovertible facts. They all lead to the same conclusion: “it is essential to rationalize the use of energy on a world-wide scale, in order to ensure the sustainable future of the species that inhabit the planet and of the corresponding biodiversity that supports them”.

    A transition to a sustainable energy system is necessary, also from “the economic point of view”, that guarantees the maintenance of our generation’s and future generations’ welfare, from a perspective of respecting the environment.

    This transition requires significant effort in research, development and technological innovation, as well as greater social awareness of the energy problem. In the short and medium term, the objectives for implementing a sustainable energy system would include the application of measures such as:
    • Encouraging energy saving and efficiency.
    • Promoting renewable energy sources.
    • The development of the necessary energy infrastructures to face the increase in consumption during this period of transition (gas-based infrastructures).

  9. Thanks democracymmmk & Tim for the intelligent discussion. I have been in favor of a carbon tax, but reading http://www.env-econ.net/carbon_tax_vs_capandtrade.html makes me think cap and trade might be better. Of course it all depends on how it is implemented. I will have to read that article several times now.

    The cap and trade system also requires a liquid market in permits. No doubt exchanges will emerge and so will even derivative markets for permits. A bonanza for the traders and middlemen. Which while providing liquidity can cause problems, including reduced efficiency due to market spreads (paying middleman), and might create volatility that a carbon tax does not. The volatility is harmful to the economy.

    My simplistic (and utopian) view had been that a carbon tax should be set at a price that allows for 100% pollution cleanup. Of course that assumes there was a technological way to remove the carbon from the atmosphere (beyond trees). Something like starting at 50% of that cost and increasing to 150% of that cost to remove historic build up.

    Anyway, now I will have to spend time reading env-eco.net. It is enlightening.

    Some data in the pricing that was not allowed for… energy inflation should be separated from general or retail inflation.

    Also the cost of risk should be priced in. One of the points of options markets is to price risk, I’m not convinced they behave that well. Risk has a very real price, but it very hard to quantify, if the Market was so good at pricing risk there would be no credit crunch.

    I see the credit crunch being similar to a possible energy crunch. For years, I had talked with friends over coffee about crazy housing markets and crazy mortgages, no one disagreed with me, we all knew there would be a price to pay, just no one knew when exactly the Piper would have to be paid and how much. The Market continued with ‘business as usual’ until the crunch occurred. The same may happen with energy.

    Think of the wind mill partly as a hedge (an option not a green bushy thing).

  10. May I just take this opportunity to thank both democracymmmk and Tim for such an informative dialogue? I feel like I am coming away much better informed, and your logical arguments both ways have done that.

    One gets so used to the ridiculous “flaming” that occurs that it is refreshing to see real facts, real debate, and yet real respect all simultaneously. Please, D & T, continue to educate me. I won’t tell you for whom I am moving toward…. yet!

  11. The expected lifespan of the product is the vital piece of information. If it lasts for 25 years then even if it takes 15 years to break even then you’ve got 10 years of free electricity, minus maintenance and disposal costs. You are otherwise at the mercy of the market. Who knows what they’ll charge or even if the service will be tenable?

    Also, it would encourage a culture of education and frugality. When you can see that using more power than the device outputs costs you money, and using less earns you money, you are more likely to live a lean lifestyle. The total electricity consumed over the payback period and beyond is likely to be less for buyers of the Windspire, than those sourcing power from the grid.

    Otherwise agree, we’re on the same side! No hard feelings 🙂

  12. “Lies damn lies and statistics,”
    –Mark Twain
    Take your pick, the data is there, though whoever calculates the “core” CPI may decide to disregard some of it. As for the differences in the data, I trust my own =AVG() function more than any reporter.

    We’re fixating on inflation but really thats only a small part of the equation. We both agree that we need renewable alternatives to fossil fuel. My point is, that the Windspire is not it unless Inflation + G is greater than or equal to approximately 15.25%, where G = uninflated rate of increase in non-renewable energy. So hope for high energy prices if you want to see more Windspires.

    And about all that emotional stuff:
    What I meant to say was that it is selfish of us to try to preserve a nation and a lifestyle at the expense of every other person in the world. The lie I spoke of was not anything you said. I was referring to the lie of unsustainable consumerist culture. Semantics aside I think we both agree that our environment is in pretty bad shape and unless the powers-that-be (whether they are governments, or markets, or a twisted monstrosity of both) make some pretty drastic moves, humanity could potentially see things get much worse before they get much better.

    Ok now I promise not to return for at least 2 weeks.

  13. I’m not making it up:

    “Through November, the core consumer price index, which measures inflation and excludes food and energy prices, rose at an annualized rate of 2.4 percent. With food and energy added in, the rate was 4.2 percent.”

  14. I’d heard somewhere that US inflation figures excluded fuel, but it doesn’t matter. The point is since oil is peaking, demand for coal is not being met, and gas is tapped out, we can expect retail prices to grow at greater than historical inflation rates, as they have been.

    Scientists don’t set the price – they set the amount of carbon emissions allowable, right? The demand for them sets the price.

    We can’t prevent collapse, but I think we should prepare for it. It’s already started. What lie am I propagating? That crude oil production has been static for the last 4 years and prices have sky rocketed? Such conditions are supposed to bring forth technological solutions – but what we got is a conversion of food into fuel – at the expense of the poor. Yeah, really selfish.

    What do you mean civilisation and markets will survive, based on thousands or years of data? Do you understand that the civilisation of the last 200 odd years is fundamentally different to preceding ones? That we are completely dependent on resources that are going into terminal decline?

    The distinction between nation and civilisation is irrelevant. We can view the experience of single nations as a microcosm of the global civilisation.

    Trust me, I’m not putting any faith in government. This is just what I think should be done, not what will be. I’m making my own preparations.

  15. Funny. The Consumer Price Index specifically includes price data for electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, and gasoline. It has not been higher than 3.4 percent since 1991 and has not been in double digits since 1981. Where in the world have you been looking?

    Predictable claim? See post 25: “Scientists (should)…effectively fixed,” [As in static, unchanging].

    Air they breathe? No hyperbole. Cap and trade becomes a suffocating smog in itself if misapplied to consumers of pollution rather than producers. A sort of double taxation.

    If your goal is to prevent collapse, you are not only selfish, but your efforts will be fruitless. Why propagate the lie at the expense of so many others? On two occasions now you have confused the words Nation and Civilization. All empires fail. Your nation will eventually get run over by another one. But Civilization -and the markets- will survive. That is based on thousands of years of data, not faith.

    Keep putting your misguided faith and trust into that big government answer of yours restricting my misguided sentiments of personal liberty. I will wait for the markets to come around. We’ll see whose answer arrives first. God help us all if it’s yours.

  16. Another thing – a market for carbon emissions is as vulnerable to boom and bust cycles as any market. Where do you get your “predictable” claim from?

  17. In 1998 crude oil was about $14 per barel. Today it’s over $90 – an average of about 21% per annum. Coal has increased in cost 400% in just the last 5 years. Funny how published “inflation” figures don’t include energy.

    All you’ve said is that there’ll be some amount of energy available from alternate sources at some price. Not a revelation and hardly proof that sufficient affordable energy will be forthcoming to prevent collapse.

    “Air they breathe.” are you indulging in hyperbole? Fossil energy is not a birth right. It’s a one shot privilege that we have squandered. Your misguided sentiments of personal liberties will have no currency when people are immobile, freezing and starving. There is plenty to debate, but you seem unable to look past emissions cap and trade – which has already been tried with limited success.

  18. http://able.harvard.edu/rates/ca004q/
    The average T-bill (aka inflation) rate over the past 79 months is 2.78%

    I can offer proof that the market will provide affordable alternatives. Just scroll up. People are willing to pay, just not the general population. Yet.

    Personally, I would limit the Cap and Trade to non-human corporations rather than having people pay for the air they breathe. I understand you want to curb demand. Please understand though that the cap system would in fact do so by raising the cost of production by internalizing the externality. It accomplishes it in a more predictable way, in a cheaper way, all while actually creating an industry in carbon abatement and appropriating the wealth it generates to cleaner companies from dirtier companies. Pollution taxes do none of this. What is there left to be open for questioning?

  19. By the way, I’m not arguing against emission cap and trade vs a carbon tax. My point is that something should be done to forcibly reduce energy consumption, the proceeds from which can be used to make a transition to a low energy civilisation. How that is done, whether by tradeable quotas or by a direct tax is open to question. However, I don’t think the abscence of scientifically quantifiable targets is sufficient reason for inaction. Richard Heinburg’s Oil Depletion Protocol may be interesting reading on this topic – he bases energy use targets on depletion rates.

  20. I’m not sure your points are entirely convincing – I never said it would be easy or perfect. As they say, the perfect is the enemy of the good. At the least a tax on energy would suppress demand. Energy saving initiatives would provide an outlet, assuming of course that they are effective. Personally I like the idea of a tradeable personal energy quota.

    There’s an easily demonstrable example of where it has worked: the London congestion tax. They have rolled the money raised into improvements of public transport (bus ridership is way up), pedestrian and cycling facilities, while improving congestion levels.

    On the other hand, you can offer no proof that left to its own devices, the market will supply a timely and affordable alternative. As I said, that’s an article of faith. While we wait, valuable resources go up in smoke.

    BTW, I think your 3% inflation figure is rather conservative. Over the next 10-20 years we can expect further dilapidation of the grid, fuel supply crunches (see South Africa and China) in both gas and coal, extra costs imposed by cap & trade, carbon taxes or sequestration equipment, and demand unmatched by supply. Also, power stations may go offline due to insufficient water available for cooling – 25% of nuclear reactors in the US are already affected.

  21. I’ve recalculated for payback factoring in a growth rate and inflation.
    N=10; PV=$-3,995; FV=$0.00; PMT=(1,800 kWh/yr * $0.08 / kWh)=$144.00
    I/yr comes out to -15.25% meaning that if inflation is a standard 3% or so, cost of energy already discounted for inflation would have to be increasing at a rate of 12.25% for a payback in 10 years. That’s a $0.01 increase per kWh for the next 5 years, then $0.02 increase for the next 5 after that. Will energy prices nearly tripple in the next 10 years? I would not bank on it. Also, to be more accurate we need maintenance costs, actual expected durability of the project, and scrap value.

    This article does a very good job at introducing the differences between a cap-and-trade and a tax system.

    But Tim here are the problems with a tax, First of all, It is more expensive to firms than a Cap&Trade (requiring B, F and J on the 2nd graph in addition to C, G, and K. Second, it requires that the government set a tax. Third, if the government miraculously decided it actually wanted to set the tax at a point where the optimum environmental and economic efficiencies align, It would have to somehow obtain reliable data on all firms aggregate marginal abatement costs. And they all have every incentive to lie rather than play fair. Fourth, if it does mess up, (and when has it not?) the government will cause instability by readjusting it’s tax rate. Most importantly fifth, a tax exacerbates the problem presented in valuing a solution economically versus environmentally. Again with a C&T the only needed input is some reliable number of maximum allowable pollution within the region. And science can actually provide that answer. Then the markets work out the best solution given the new restriction. With a tax, It’s a guessing game of how much pollution will actually be abated with each new tax level. To top it all off, sixth, there is no way to insure that the money paid into the system actually goes back towards cleaning up the mess. In all probability it would end up building another bridge to nowhere or a few more bombs.

  22. democracymmmk, did you do you calculation for payback at a flat rate or allow for inflation? Even at 17 years, it still offsets poser used during that entire time, and the power generated grows in value as the cost of electricity increases.

  23. There is a problem with the current energy infrastructure. Say if I were to create a new alternative source of energy. It will cost more than the petroleum equivalent because petroleum was involved through the entire process of creating my new energy acquiring device.

    More specifically

    Costs for transporting goods relies on petrol,as well as the electrical power used in creating the new device leads back to a station powered by petrol.

    It’s almost like a divergence, if we started with solar, things may have been extremely different.

    If petrol didn’t pollute I would have had less problems with it as an energy source. But since it does, there has been a long time that it’s pollution costs are neglected. As well as nuclear energy not considering costs of a catastrophe such as a container leaking or being stolen.

    Overall, the big picture is looking at the remaining resources and planning for the future.

    “What about the cost of putting one of these things in a landfill when it breaks after two years?” -yesbut

    Garbage is another issue. Of which needs to be converted to goods again. There are plenty of valuable materials waiting there, it might just need some sort of an assembly line to segregate it all. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to dig a quarry and extract and refine minerals. The materials at a landfill on the other hand, should be much more readily extractable.

    Overall I hope we can turn earth into a paradise because who wants to live in a world of trash and disgust?

  24. Many civilisations and nations have collapsed. Cuba is a recent example. Notice that Cuba have not found new high tech ways of living like the West? They have simplified their lives and employed clever low-tech arrangements. The West has not had to deal with declining resources (energy specifically), so drawing the conclusion that our brilliance leads us ever upward is tenuous – especially given the financial crisis unfolding in the US, their energy insolvency being a major factor. Over-reach, sprawling infrastructure, declining resources and diminishing returns on investment are classic causes of collapse. Cuba may be been better off now if they had been preparing for it – and keep in mind that the West have much further to fall.

    People advocating a solution by high-technology often ignore the cost (energy, time or otherwise) of making a transition and building the infrastructure. New technologies in the past have been introduced in the context of rising resource availability. By redirecting energy wealth away from profligate use before decline we can avoid the need for individual solutions to be “profitable.” Define profitability too narrowly is a hazard. Non-monetary benefits can be significant, and can produce savings in subtle and less quatifiable measures. Also, the payoff can occur later. To be sure, fossil fuels will get very expensive, but is it wise to wait until then to wean ourselves off them?

    The same permit system could be used on fossil energy – putting a quota on use and trading the surplus has been proposed by some. Over time the quotas are reduced. Taxes of some form on energy use are a straight forward way of pre-emptively making transition to a lower energy civilisation economically feasible.

    I’m not proposing centrally planned economics – just a tipping of the scales and intelligent development with a long view. Incremental improvements and culture change can be made over time with enlightened policy. Consider Copenhagen and Portland US’s success at developing cycling culture. Even within the framework of existing necessary policy, such as city planning and zoning, long term gains can be made (see Smart Growth).

    It’s all about (mis)allocation of resources. Laissez-fair capitalism works on such a short time frame with narrow heuristics that it is blind to long term trends and threats. Investments under wrong assumptions will be recognised as wasted in the future, perhaps not now.

  25. It is an article of fact that civilization has not collapsed in recorded history. We humans are also different from bacteria in that we have efficient means of transporting and distributing resources also known as markets, we can innovate and find new ways of doing things, and though we are in a petri dish in the sense that yes the world is finite, it is an awfully big petri dish (despite our admittedly large population) and we are not confined to consuming Agar. We can “eat” all kinds of things, including solar or wind energy.

    The only catch is no one will do it unless it is profitable. And that seems to be a law that no one has been able to break. Right now that means dependence on a finite fuel source and profligate use. You are right Tim, we may never find a renewable energy source that is as cheap as fossil fuels have been. But we will find a renewable energy source that is as cheap as fossil fuels /will be/.

    You seem to be in favor of legislation mandating certain green technologies, then spending the revenues on green alternatives to dirty sources. Please clarify your plan including source of said revenues.

    The first problem with this approach is the fact that the government is bought and paid for by the dirty companies and Obama will go the way of Kennedy before he fights that battle and wins, even if he is dumb enough to try. Clinton won’t be. But I digress.

    The difference is that with a market based system, government is with a comparatively light hand able to curb pollution to an acceptable and foreknown level at the same time as actually creating a market and stimulating economic growth. It works like this: Scientists or experts (should) determine the maximum acceptable level of pollution and then marketable permits (should be)issued for free to everyone equaling that total amount of pollution. Greener companies don’t need as many so they can sell them to dirty ones -who still pollute but since the cost of polluting without permits (should be) ridiculously punitive, no one does. Aggregate pollution is effectively fixed, the biggest polluters pay for the problem, the money goes to those able to innovate in a greener direction, and best of all, the total price paid for all the permits is market driven and so reflects the actual abatement cost. The cost does not reflect some engineer’s cumbersome master-plan. We know command economics fails, always.

    The system is not without fault. There are many places where bureaucrats can replace “shoulds” with “won’ts.” But it is practicably workable because it gives dirty companies the ability to hedge their bets. They know they have to green themselves if only to keep their consumers happy (or alive). This gives them a market to do it in. And if they might be able to profit from it, they might risk it.

  26. tim…thank you…(*sigh of relief*). Wish more people thought that way. In addition to moral motivations that should be making more of us feel as Expatriot feels, there’s lots of emerging (and existing) data pointing to a scenario where we reach the “tipping point” before our precious hydrocarbons become expensive, thus making renewables finally economically competitive. Aw, the beauty of purely unregulated capitalism.

  27. That’s the economist’s position, but you have to admit that it’s an article of faith that alternatives will be deployed in time when conditions are right, things won’t be “too” bad, and civilisation won’t collapse. In fact, this is the same assumption bacteria in a petri dish live by to their eventual demise, using up the best quality resources as fast as they can. What sets up apart from bacteria is our ability to make observations on the world and its history, infer consequences, and make plans.

    What’s the difference between internalising the cost of pollution, and internalising the cost of switching to a more expensive and limited alternative? That would amount to making the cost of the fuel reflect future scarcity. The revenue could go to subsidising products such as this, education, public transport, works to reduce dependence, etc.

  28. As fossil fuel sources dry up, supply decreases, demand increases, prices increase, and the incentive to innovate or produce alternatives increases. Some alternatives might not be renewable, i.e. squeezing oil out of shale or tar-sands, while others like this Windspire might be. If we were all like a guy in California paying $0.23/kWh this thing would probably see widespread implementation and would be a “solution,” in my books.

    So that is the suggestion you asked for: just wait and let the markets be markets. The beauty of this is it is a self-correcting and self-slowing process so the markets transform in a healthy way, instead of developing parasitically suckling on subsidies from an over-inflated government as we’ve seen in agriculture. I acknowledge market failures caused by externalities; James makes a good point about this. Market-based systems can go a long way to help internalize costs like pollution. A few good court cases might also do the trick.

  29. democracymmmk, that sounds rational until you consider the consequence of everyone thinking like that: complete dependence on a finite fuel source and profligate use. We may never find a renewable energy source that is as cheap as fossil fuels have been. With that in mind, can you suggest a way to encourage massive and permanent demand reduction and a shift towards such renewable sources?

  30. If you consider the potential changes in the cost over traditional energy over time, the economic attractiveness of such devices often increases greatly. Consider, for example, the value in areas where electricity rates may rise 2-3 times over the next 10 years, given the probably 10 – 15 year lifespan for this product.

  31. Craig B. – Argh, regular windmills don’t kill birds – cats in the US kill 10s-100s of millions of birds per year, ground and low nesting birds are being decimated and pushed to near extinction by house cats (but no one talks about it because it will offend the cats owners).

    Giant wind turbines in certain areas kill some soaring birds. But if regular windmills killed birds then during the great depression people would have hung out near windmills to reap the bounty of free dead birds to eat.

    Oil and Coal companies are laughing their asses off at the thought of people being against wind power because it kills birds – even if it were true (which it is not) could clean small wind power possibly kill as many birds as oil spills and ground water and air pollution from coal/oil power?

  32. US average energy price of $0.08 per kWh, is false, because it does not consider the costs of cleaning up after pollution.

  33. I will look into this. I like being an early adopter for economically friendly technology if it makes sense, even if it does not pay for itself. The price will eventually come down when there are enough early adopters .

  34. This seems like a fantastic system. I would think it would be great for people living in windy places – I can imagine that people in Denmark could stick a few of these up on top of their buildings (assuming codes allowed it, of course).

    One other thing that I like, that’s not touched on in this article, is that looks like it is more “bird-friendly” – I’ve seen a bunch of reports saying traditional windmills kill a lot of birds….

  35. For people living in mountains far from the power lines, this sounds like a great option.

    People in cities could use larger version of this as a combination windmill and cell/radio tower.

  36. I am with you, Democ, it must be efficient economically too. And the first thing I did was the math. Now, one of the things that offets the total years to recoup cost, is the generator. If you were buying a gen anyway, you would be knocking the greater portion of the cost off. I want to know more…can it run the frig and well pump when the power goes out??? Can its gen also run on LP gas? Is energy stored? very exciting product.

  37. Wouldn’t a device need to get through the ‘early adopter’ phase and into widespread use before it became affordable via volume production though? Technology that $5k today will be down at $1k 10 years from now if it gains some traction in the marketplace and the manufacturer refines the process.

  38. The point is that a solution, to be a solution, must be economically sane as well as environmentally. If not, it classifies as a luxury item which unfortunately has nothing to do with building a sustainable economy or infrastructure.

  39. I’ll buy one. I live in windy San Mateo, CA, and my marginal electric rate is $0.23/kwh. That’s probably worth over $500/year.

  40. 1800 kW per year. Suppose you pay a relatively high energy price of $0.13 per kWh you consume it would still take 17 years to justify the investment. It is 27.7 years if you pay the US average energy price of $0.08 per kWh. So even if you could install it yourself for free how long do these things last exactly?

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