Wind turbine manufacturer empowers homeowners
By Bob Karlovits
Published: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Ron Gdovic has a simple idea about using a wind turbine at home.
“I wanted to make something that all you do is tip it up, put it in place and plug it in,” he says.
Gdovic is the inventor and marketer of a 20-foot-tall cylindrical wind turbine aimed at providing about 20 percent of a home's electrical needs. The turbines are powered by vertically spinning, wooden blades shaped individually at the Strip District plant of WindStax Power Systems, of which Gdovic is president.
The turbines — housed in a tower of polyvinyl chloride posts and costing about $7,500 for the residential size — are drawing attention for a variety of reasons. The blades are made of okoume, a flexible, Asian wood often used in boat construction.
• Marie Piantanida believes a turbine could be a economical way of lighting a grove-like building in an East Liberty parklet run by the Borland Green Eco-Village.
• W. Donald Orkoskey, owner of WDO Photography in the Strip, is in the process of planning a home with straw-bale-type insulation in Reserve. He believes a turbine would well suit his environmentally oriented design.
• Scott Smith, owner of East End Brewery, sees a turbine or two as a possible way of running his refrigeration equipment, which needs constant power.
• Randall Sulkin of Lawrenceville is in the process of putting together an aquaponics business that grows plants in water-based greenhouses. Like Smith, he is investigating the use of turbines as a steady power source.
They all were among guests at a WindStax open house in which Gdovic described his equipment and displayed the manufacturing system that his company uses.
The 20-foot, residential turbine weighs about 1,500 pounds and is mounted in place over a type of foundation to which it is bolted. Batteries that store the generated power are in the turbine tower; power lines then are run to the home or building in which equipment ties it to the electrical system.
Many turbine or solar systems are designed around feeding generated electricity back into the power grid, creating savings that way.
Gdovic, however, believes his towers are more suited to generate power used directly by the owner. He says turbines can supply the batteries, which then power a home or business. When stored electricity gets too low, the system switches back to the utility grid, he says.
“It is like a tenth of a millisecond switch,” he says. “You can't even see a flicker in your TV.”
Placement could be one of the biggest issues, Gdovic says. He recommends having clear space the height of the turbine on all sides of the device. Although toppling is not a threat, he advises such clear space just in case. That clear area also suggests there is enough area for wind for the turbine.
Mike Bergey agrees that placement is important, too. He is the owner of Bergey Windpower, an Oklahoma-based turbine company and president of Distributed Wind Energy Association, an industry group headquartered in Arizona. He says residential turbines can be effective “in the right situation.”
He says a turbine should be at least 80 feet in the air, 50 feet above surrounding buildings, where it can capture steady currents.
His company's best-selling unit has blades 23 feet in diameter and stands 100 to 120 feet high.
Gdovic says the design of his turbine is built on “high torque and low RPM,” meaning the power can be generated without a high degree of spinning, which is good in this area, he says.
“As we know, wind in this area is in fits and starts,” he says, standing at the plant, next to a turbine that is turning in that erratic way. “But (wind) from the west and up the Allegheny (River) is pretty impressive and keeps this thing going.”
He says winds are measured up to Class Seven and the Pittsburgh area is a Class Two. The Somerset County area — home of high, bladed turbines on ridge tops — is only in Class Three or Four, he says.
When a potential customer expresses interest, Gdovic says, WindStax sends out a small, self-contained weather station that measures wind, humidity and temperatures in a way to see if installation is practical. Then, a representative visits for a further assessment.
Gdovic says the company, in existence since February, has sold six units, none of them in the area. It is constructing a 40-foot unit to power equipment at an oil-well site in Kansas.
“There is something ironic about that, but I am not going to get into it,” he says.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports residential wind-turbine use is in its early stages, with 3,700 small units sold in 2012.
Spokeswoman Niketa Kumar says both grid-connected and stand-alone units are practical for various reasons.
“Stand-alone, wind-energy systems can be appropriate for homes, farms or even entire communities that are far from the nearest utility lines,” she says. “A grid-connected wind turbine can help reduce consumption of utility-supplied electricity for lighting, appliances and electric heat. If the turbine cannot deliver the amount of energy a home may need, the utility makes up the difference.”
She recommends a department website for information: www.windpoweringamerica.gov/small_wind.asp.
Unlike bladed turbines, WindStax turbines do not harm birds. The blades turn clockwise with the edges at the back end.
“So you could stick your hand in there — which we do not recommend — and it would not get hurt, depending on the speed,” he says.
Naturally, the success of the projects becomes a matter of length of use, he says. A total installation might cost $10,000, including foundation work and electric connections; therefore, the time it takes for savings from reduced usage becomes the way to judge it.
“There are a lot of variables,” he says.
Bergey says he thinks more testing of lower residential turbines is needed by an independent third party.
“Then you will be able to tell if it works,” he says.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7852.
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