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Wind-borne aspirations - Rancho Palos Verdes man weathers obstacles to market alternative energy generator

But the cylindrical turbine hardly resembled fanlike conventional ones. "Everybody expects it to have propellers," the 52-year-old Watkins said. "People don't recognize it." It not only looked different on the outside, but also on the inside. It lacked the gears that many traditional wind turbines have, he said. Watkins' design transformed the energy from the spinning blades directly into electricity.

When Rancho Palos Verdes resident Phil Watkins attempted to design a wind turbine from scratch, he received criticism from industry experts. And he doubted himself.

Even as a self-taught machinist, he'd never built a generator -- the heart of the wind turbine -- before.

Would his tampering with a long-coveted way of converting wind energy into electricity pay off?

Watkins built his first wind turbine in 2002. The outcome shocked him.

"I was told it would never work," he said. "(But) it started making power."

But the cylindrical turbine hardly resembled fanlike conventional ones.

"Everybody expects it to have propellers," the 52-year-old Watkins said. "People don't recognize it."

It not only looked different on the outside, but also on the inside. It lacked the gears that many traditional wind turbines have, he said. Watkins' design transformed the energy from the spinning blades directly into electricity.

Without the gears, it requires no maintenance, he said. While other wind turbines have direct-drive generators, too, they are not identical to his, which is patented.

But his wind venture suffered financially after a legal dispute over patent ownership with a former partner, he... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

When Rancho Palos Verdes resident Phil Watkins attempted to design a wind turbine from scratch, he received criticism from industry experts. And he doubted himself.

Even as a self-taught machinist, he'd never built a generator -- the heart of the wind turbine -- before.

Would his tampering with a long-coveted way of converting wind energy into electricity pay off?

Watkins built his first wind turbine in 2002. The outcome shocked him.

"I was told it would never work," he said. "(But) it started making power."

But the cylindrical turbine hardly resembled fanlike conventional ones.

"Everybody expects it to have propellers," the 52-year-old Watkins said. "People don't recognize it."

It not only looked different on the outside, but also on the inside. It lacked the gears that many traditional wind turbines have, he said. Watkins' design transformed the energy from the spinning blades directly into electricity.

Without the gears, it requires no maintenance, he said. While other wind turbines have direct-drive generators, too, they are not identical to his, which is patented.

But his wind venture suffered financially after a legal dispute over patent ownership with a former partner, he said. Watkins said he won the case in Torrance Superior Court.

After enduring snarls from the industry and scrapes with bankruptcy, his Torrance-based company, PacWind Technology, launched two months ago. Watkins estimates the company will post at least $1 million in revenue in 2007.

While several companies -- including Bergey Windpower and Southwest Windpower -- have long dominated the industry, startups are cropping up to develop small-scale wind turbines for homes or business and those that feed into the central power supply, said Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.

  
"(The current wind turbines are) relatively similar in design; it comes down to cost competition and (power) delivery," she said. "There's a lot of room for different products."

Real de Azua said high electricity costs and growing interest in green power are driving the demand for wind energy.

"State incentives make it easier for consumers to buy with (wind turbines') relatively high upfront costs," she said. "But most renewable energy (sources) have that economic profile but over time they will have savings."

Watkins hopes in the future his wind turbines will provide an environmentally friendly way to help power the South Bay.

"You need a good and steady wind resource," Real de Azua said. "Open (remote) areas are more efficient. You must balance how much cost versus how much you produce."

Watkins said his turbine produces power at speeds as low as 3 mph, can endure stormy conditions with wind speeds of up to 120 mph, and is more efficient -- 42 percent -- than most wind turbines at 30 percent.

Among other advantages: it spins silently in the wind and its rotating vertical blades presumably appear as a solid object -- a cylinder -- for birds to avoid, he said.

Real de Azua said modern designs have addressed previous concerns about turbine noise and danger to wildlife. Improved technology is also cutting the costs of power produced by wind energy, making it competitive with electricity generated by fuel.

Watkins said there's still the "NIMBY (not in my back yard) problem" to get past. "There will always be naysayers, 'It doesn't match my flowers,' " Watkins said.

PacWind's first product -- the small-scale wind turbine SeaHawk -- sells for around $4,495. A larger model, Alpha, soon will enter the market.

Dealers from around the world -- Australia, Africa and Mexico -- have agreed to sell them.

One Chinese company, PC International, which also invests in PacWind, signed a license to manufacture its turbines.

  
While PacWind still depends on money from investors, it's expecting to become sustainable soon and go public in the next two years.

Watkins hired Dave Glawson three months ago to handle the marketing. Glawson, who worked at Apple Computer for 15 years before coming to PacWind, created a Web site and fliers to promote the company. He is also a partner at Torrance-based Creative Wireless, which is selling the SeaHawk.

"I really don't have a business mind," Watkins said. "I'm your typical nerdy engineer. I don't understand the outside world."

But he has the next PacWind development in mind: A solar and wind hybrid.

"It's like peanut butter and jelly," Watkins said.


 


Source: http://www.dailybreeze.com/...

AUG 21 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/4088-wind-borne-aspirations-rancho-palos-verdes-man-weathers-obstacles-to-market-alternative-energy-generator
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