Design of windmills scaled down to power residences

Say "wind power" and people envision hillsides peppered with tall towers spinning bird-chomping propellers and sounding like a science fiction soundtrack.

Reno-based Mariah Power, Inc. aims to change that with its commercial product, called an urban/suburban cyclo electricity turbine.

Mike Hess, chief executive officer, wants people to think of it as a wind appliance just as they think of a home appliance like a washing machine plug it in and watch it go.

The company looks to raise its first round of outside funding when it presents to the 6th annual Silver and Gold Venture Capital Conference in Reno next month.

Its windmill looks like a sleek tower, available in designer colors, that stands 30 feet tall. That, says the company Web site, falls below the typical residential zoning restrictions. The lack of propellers means it's safe and silent. The device is made of plastic and steel, and is designed to stand in the yard, bolted to a poured concrete foundation.

Each unit, says Hess, generates 1 kilowatt of power, enough to light 10 100-watt light bulbs, or supply about 25 percent of the energy used in an average home.

Mariah will roll out public sales in January, with units priced at $3,000 each. Estimated payback time is a function of locale and cost paid for power, says Hess, adding, "It's also a function of how much wind you have in your backyard." But in Nevada he estimates a 18- to 36-month payback period.

Compare that to California, he says, with a six-month payback time. That's because the state offers a $2.50 rebate per kilowatt capacity, which translates to a $2,500 tax break.

Mariah says its axial-gap permanent magnet generator attained a record generator efficiency of over 98 percent in laboratory testing at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the the University of Nevada, Reno, through a program sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The company is also working with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on a rooftop version.

The company's first patent was issued this year, with additional patents pending.

So far, the devices have been installed at five test locations in three private homes. Units also have been installed at two middle schools, a project to teach kids about alternative energy.

Mariah employs just three, all founders: Hess, Chris Gabrys, the chief technical officer and Tim Rodgers, the vice president of sales.

Hess, who is a member of the Sierra Angels, an investment group, says the founders met with the idea of doing something with renewable energy. They started work on the device a year ago.

"Nevada is a perfect place for this technology," Hess says, "because you have all the wind. It's just a matter of capturing it."

Mariah currently manufactures the vertical wind turbines in Reno, where work is outsourced to area machine shops. But once production starts in volume, production will be sourced overseas.

Mariah plans to start producing 100 units a month in February and hopes to sell 1,600 units the first year. Buyers can install the unit themselves or hire a contractor at an estimated cost of $300 to $500.

"This is a huge cost reduction," says Hess. "People today pay $7,000 to $8,000 for the same size capacity. This is three times cheaper than solar."

In bringing the product to market, the challenges have not been technical. "We've had a lot of challenges," says Hess, "Mostly about the market. Sierra Angels helped us focus on the right market." He credits that to the groups' broad range of members from different industries.

"We would like people to take responsibility for reducing carbon emissions," Hess adds. "We will have to solve these problems with renewables."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment