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Remote market prototypes

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has now awarded all four of its promised contracts for development of small wind turbines for remote or rural areas. The last of the contracts, worth a total of about $4.5 million, was signed on November 19, says NREL's Trudy Forsyth. The laboratory's small-turbine programme was mooted in 1995.

The largest contract, finalised in September, is with Cannon/Wind Eagle of Tehachapi, California, for $1.576 million. World Power Technologies Inc of Duluth, Minnesota, finalised its contract, for $1.249 million, in October. Windlite Co, a new company founded by Bob Lynette and with Jay Jayadev as project manager, was awarded its contract, for $1.244 million, in August. And Bergey Windpower Co was awarded its contract, for $1.228 million, only last month.

The names of the four firms chosen had initially been announced a year ago. Each contract includes a minimum of 20% cost sharing from the company. In a new strategy, NREL also asked for the maximum power of the turbines to be specified -- from 5 kW to 40 kW -- not the rated power, notes Forsyth.

The Cannon/Wind Eagle is a 34 kW two blade, downwind turbine and the only one of the four that is fixed speed, the others being variable speed. Bergey's is a 40 kW upwind unit with three blades. Windlite's is the smallest at 8 kW, with three blades and upwind. And World Power's is a 20 kW upwind unit with three blades.

Battery charging

World Power Technologies Inc of Duluth, Minnesota, founded in 1978, is one of the oldest companies selected. It will develop its 20 kW prototype during the next three years as a low maintenance, cost effective design for battery charging. It is intended for the North American market -- from Alaska to Mexico -- and for village electrification throughout the developing world. World Power intends to have the design, dubbed the Windfarmer 30 for its 30 foot (nine metres) diameter rotor, certified to international standards. It is nearly five times larger than anything the company currently offers and will be tested at NREL's wind test site near Boulder, Colorado, as will the three other designs.

Under the contract, announced on November 6, World Power will share 25% of the cost over the three years, says the company's founder and president Elliott Bayly. The unit will be a three blade, upwind turbine with a 30 metre diameter rotor and a permanent-magnet alternator, he says. It will use the injection moulded technology of the company's Whisper H900.

"There are two and a half billion people in the world without electricity, many living in small isolated villages of a dozen to several hundred residents where power lines are years away," says World Power's Patricia DeLano. The turbine will be easy to integrate with solar or PV, she says. "Electricity can perform miraclesÉ. One of the greatest benefits is that children can read and do their homework at night, which is ultimately the greatest benefit to a developing nation." She also notes that in the Midwest of America, the turbine will reduce a home or business's electricity bill and keep the lights and heat on if the power goes out.

World Power is known for low speed small turbines with only a few moving parts and low maintenance -- just a once yearly inspection, the company says. Business is booming for the small Minnesota company, further indication of the potential importance of wind jobs in the heartland of the US. The company is currently shipping out some 90 small turbines monthly, about half of which are exported, says Bayley.

Indeed, World Power is so inundated with orders, it has a 12 week backlog. Bayley that the market has changed dramatically. Whereas before, many were sold to wind "weenies" or aficionados, now most of those exported are for the developing world. A total of 3000-4000 World Power turbines have been installed so far worldwide.

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