July 10, 2009

Powerhouse Wind Ltd.

An interesting article came up in my feed this morning, and follows on nicely from the CleanTech post last week. The article is published in Idealog, an excellent NZ magazine that showcases some great kiwi ideas, across business, design, science and the web etc. Check it out if you get the chance.

Powerhouse Wind Limited are a Dunedin based company working in the area of wind turbines. The team have a background in desiging high-volume, mass-market consumer products (some of them are ex-Fisher & Paykel) and they've used these skills to develop a small scale wind turbine capable of powering a household.

Their design is radically different to most already available in that it only has one blade with two counterweights, while most have three blades. There are several benefits to this - the turbine can align itself more efficiently to the wind, and that it is quieter. With an average wind speed of about 5-6 meters per second, the turbine can generate about 3,200 kWh, which is enough to power an energy efficient house. The target price is $20,000, which seems high but if you work it out it is a good investment over time. My flat spends about $200 a month on power (I think), so it will pay for itself in 8 years, not to mention the savings you make by selling surplus electricity generated back into the grid.

I think this is a really clever approach, as it builds upon the trend toward a distributed energy generation system, where the energy is generated on-site with minimal energy lost in its transmission, unlike centralised generation (wind farms for example) that transmit over long distances and inefficiently. If one day everyone is generating their own power, Powerhouse Wind will be sitting in a good position, having amassed years and years of experience ahead of a field that currently only seems to be interested in large scale turbines for big wind farms. I wish them luck!

Would you buy one?


  1. One problem. You couldn't use one at your flat as it requires a site of at least one acre. So really only suitable for urban fringe/semi rural properties at this stage. Cool product though.

  2. Yeah, its a shame we can't have one at Constable St! I guess that is to do with resource consent issues etc.

  3. From a New Zealand perspective you want the most economic generation to be developed first. i.e. least cost. Smaller scale wind generation tends to be significantly more expensive than larger scale, centralised generation on a $/kWh basis (even taking into account the 7% or so of generation that is lost, on average, through transmission and generation). For example, subject to acquiring resource consent, centralised wind farms tend to be built in areas where wind blows the strongest. I suspect there aren’t many households where the wind blows sufficiently to allow for a ~40% capacity factor on a turbine.
    (btw the average household in NZ uses around 8,000kWh per year, so the 3,200kWh figure is a bit of a red herring).
    I should add that I’m not against distributed generation by any means – I’m simply all for the most economic generation being developed. I too wish the company all the best – ultimately it will be technological advances such as these that allow for distributed wind generation to compete with the traditional centralised methods of generation.

  4. Thanks for the comments goonix. It's great to get an ecomonists perspective on this. I'm not by any means suggesting that this is the most economic form of wind energy production in NZ. All I'm saying is that I believe Powerhouse Winds strategy is a good one, and follows basic innovation prinicples.

  5. Goonix's comments are interesting and useful, but can be debated. As far as the per kWh question goes, distributed or on-site generators compete with the retail cost of power, not the wholesale. Which is fair enough, if the turbine is in your backyard, you don't need a high voltage transmission network to deliver the power. If you stay connected, you help delay investments in more capacity in the high voltage backbone.

    As far as the 8000kWh figure goes, Goonix is right, but that is for an all electric home with electric water heating, electric space heating and all electric appliances. Our design (declaring my interest as one the developers)is aimed at powering all of a carefully designed house, or making a significant contribution to an average house. The house at Waitati in Dunedin that is hosting one of our prototypes is home to a family of 4 plus regular guests, is well designed for passive solar heating, has solar and wood fired wetback water heating,but otherwise normal electric appliances and we expect will generate more energy from the turbine in a year than they use.

    Later on, we intend to scale our design to cover the 1.5 to 10 kW power range which will cover more demand requirements.

    Good to have the debate, there are some very interesting issues here. Please visit our website www.powerhousewind.co.nz to find out more.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Bill. You make some vaild points. Can I also point you to some research being conducted here at Victoria University, which is published in the spring issue of Victorious: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/home/about/newspubs/victorious/publications/Victorious-spring09.pdf



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