Has affordable, practical home wind power generation become a reality? The Honeywell Windgate wind turbine from EarthTronics looks like it could be a contender. Developers EarthTronics and Honeywell Corp hope the Windgate wind turbine will help meet the energy needs of homeowners and businesses, even if they are not located in prime “windy” areas. EarthTronics says the 6-foot wide, 95-pound Windgate can start to spin in breezes as low as 2mph and can create more power with less wind than other types of wind turbines.

One of the biggest obstacles to the widespread use of wind power generation is that many areas just aren’t that windy. In the US, for example, wind suitable for power generation is concentrated on the coasts and in parts of the Midwest. In fact, some estimates indicate that 90 percent of US wind resources average 9mph (14.5kph) or less. Most traditional wind turbine designs don’t start spinning until 7 or 8mph (12kph), and so finding a place to install the turbine becomes a major issue.

Wind turbine companies are addressing this challenge in a variety of innovative ways. We have previously covered the AeroVironment system that takes advantage of a building’s aerodynamics to maximize windflow, and the Windspire vertical-axis design that uses a small installed footprint. But most manufacturers focus instead on building large-scale systems that are installed away from where the generated power is needed. See our reports on the ocean-based HyWind and the high-altitude Magenn systems.

EarthTronics and Honeywell attempt to address this challenge by making the Windgate suitable for installation where the power is being consumed, even in areas with light winds. The Windgate measures just 6 feet (1.8m) across and weighs less than 95lbs (43kg). The turbine can be installed on a house or business rooftop, wall or on a self-standing pole. The Windgate’s design eliminates the geared hub design found in other turbines, and EarthTronics says this allows the unit to run more quietly and with less vibration.

EarthTronics designed the Windgate to start spinning in light winds as low as 2mph (3.2kph). To accomplish this, the turbine generates energy using its gearless “free wheeling” Blade Tip Power System, which reduces mechanical resistance and drag. Rim-mounted permanent magnets generate power at the tips of the fan blades - the fastest moving area - instead of at the fan hub as in traditional turbine designs. The efficiency of this design, the company says, allows the Windgate to operate in a greater range of wind speeds (2 to 45mph, 3.2 to 72.4kph) than traditional wind turbines. Traditional turbines typically begin turning at 7.5mph (12.1kph) and shut down around 29mph (46.7kph) to protect their gearing systems.

The Honeywell Windgate wind turbine comes with a computerized control box, power inverter, and an interconnect switch to wire the system into a household panel. A professional electrician is required for installation and the homeowner must also supply one or more automotive-type batteries to complete the system. Once installed, the Windgate can create up to 2000 kilowatt hours (kW) of power per year, which is about 15 percent of an average household’s energy needs.

The EarthTronics Honeywell Windgate will be available this northern fall. Initially it will be sold in ACE Hardware stores in the US for USD$4,500. EarthTronics says that the turbine’s installed cost is about one third of the cost of traditional turbines, with a lower installed cost per kW than other turbines on the market.

In the US, homeowners are eligible for federal and state rebates that cover anywhere from 30 percent to 100 percent of the overall cost of the turbine, making the Windgate an even more affordable option for personal wind power generation.