USA - Adobe Systems goes for wind power

"I told him it's not just art"

The new wind turbines spinning slowly at Adobe Systems' headquarters in San Jose could be mistaken for sculpture. In fact, they already have been. Tall, slender cylinders that hold more air than metal, they look nothing like the giant rotors turning above the Altamont Pass. But they generate power all the same.

"The other day I was standing here, and one of the employees was saying, 'Don't you think we've overdone it with the art?' " said Randy Knox, Adobe's senior director of global workplace solutions. "I told him it's not just art."

At a time when companies throughout California are bolting solar panels to their roofs, softwaremaker Adobe has taken a different approach to renewable power, installing 20 small wind turbines at its headquarters. Sales of small-scale wind systems have grown rapidly in recent years. So far, they remain niche products, garnering just a fraction of the attention lavished on rooftop solar. And yet, small wind turbines may be better suited to some locations.

Adobe's headquarters, for example, consists of three office towers whose roofs are too small for a sizable solar system. But the towers funnel wind into a courtyard where Adobe employees play basketball and bocce. Even on days when the air seems still elsewhere in downtown San Jose, the courtyard has a breeze.

"We knew we'd created a wind tunnel here," Knox said on a recent gray morning, as he watched the wind turbines spin silently along the edge of the courtyard. "In an urban environment, there's a lot of wind tunnels, even at ground level."

Adobe's turbines come from Mariah Power, a startup based in Reno. Called Windspires by Mariah, each one stands 30 feet high, with thin aluminum vanes turning around a vertical axis. Each Windspire can generate a maximum of 1.2 kilowatts of electricity. For comparison, a typical home solar array can generate up to 3 kilowatts in full, direct sunlight.

Adobe won't reveal how much it spent on the Windspires, but Knox said the total price was a little lower than a solar system of comparable output. Together, the 20 Windspires will produce less than 2 percent of the power used at Adobe's headquarters.

That low percentage is unusual. Most of the people buying small wind turbines use them for houses or farms, where they can supply a bigger proportion of the overall power needed.

"The heart of the market is homeowners, farmers and small businesses - people looking to reduce their electricity bills and help the environment in a tangible way," said Ron Stimmel, small systems manager for the American Wind Energy Association. "It's really a neat feeling of being able to supply your own needs and not have to rely on a utility."

Sales of small turbines - those with a capacity of 100 kilowatts or less - rose 78 percent in 2008 to hit $77 million, Stimmel said. Unlike the Windspire, most of the small turbines sold in the United States are rotors with horizontal axes - essentially, miniature versions of the turbines found in big wind farms.

Small-wind sales may get a boost from a little-noticed element of President Obama's stimulus package. The federal government now gives people who buy small turbines a 30 percent tax credit on the project's cost. In addition, the California Energy Commission offers small-wind buyers a rebate based on the project's electrical output.

Small turbines do have limitations. They typically need at least a little open space around them to work at peak efficiency. That makes them better suited to rural and suburban areas than dense city neighborhoods, Stimmel said, although some San Francisco homeowners have experimented with them anyway. Mariah Power, for example, recommends that homeowners have at least a half-acre of land available.

Anyone interested in buying a wind turbine for their home or business must study the local wind speed and direction carefully. In places with light breezes, the turbines may not work at all.

"It's great if you want to put a Windspire up, but if you don't have wind, you're not going to generate energy," said Amy Berry, marketing director for Mariah Power. "You don't want to put the Windspire behind any kind of obstacle, like a neighbor's house."

For more information please contact Trevor Sievert at ts@windfair.net

Online Editorial www.windfair.net
Posted by Trevor Sievert, Online editorial Journalist
wind energy, wind farm, rotorblade, wind power, wind turbine

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