What matters when purchasing a small wind turbine?
by Mick Sagrillo
Mick Sagrillo (msagrillo@ wizunwired.net) teaches and consults about wind power, and has powered his home with wind since 1982.
Bergey Windpower’s Excel 10, the first small wind turbine to receive certification.
Like a good consumer, you’ve educated yourself on the principles that matter when considering a wind system: the importance of the wind resource, rotor size, and independent certification to industry standards. You also understand why successful wind systems are installed on tall towers and not on rooftops or at the tree line, and the difference between “power” and “energy.” It’s now time to lay out some criteria for selecting a manufacturer.
What makes a manufacturer worth considering?
With the plethora of small wind web sites out there, it’s might seem daunting to try to ferret out the wheat from the chaff, who is a legitimate small wind manufacturer and who is a huckster. Actually, it is simpler than it appears. Remember the discussion about turbine certification? (ST Winter 2015/2016) This is your screen. Any manufacturer not listed with a certified turbine should not be considered, period. No matter what they promise or how much they plead. Do you want to be someone’s beta test site or do you want a working wind system for decades?
By considering only certified turbines, you narrow the list down from literally hundreds to twelve. That’s it. That’s the total number of turbines that have survived the application, documentation, and review process and gone on to achieve turbine certification. Sure makes life easy, unless of course the turbine design of your dreams is not on that list. If that’s the case, continue to save your money unless you are willing to be part of a manufacturer’s R&D project.
Any manufacturer not listed with a certified turbine should not be considered, period.
However, even though a turbine is certified, it’s no guarantee that you want to purchase that turbine. One big intangible is the manufacturer and how easy or difficult they are to work with. You are invariably going to have questions galore. Patience on their part should be noted. So should cutting to the chase: “Let’s get on with it and make the sale” should raise red flags.
You need to know several things about the manufacturer. How long the manufacturer has been in business is interesting, along with the number of turbines in the field of the model you are considering. Although not critical information, you probably don’t want to buy a brand new design or a turbine model with a serial number in the single digits. Let someone else be the guinea pig and shake the bugs out.
The fine print
One prime consideration is their warranty and what it does, and especially, does not, cover. Most all warranties cover parts and labor, but labor is at the factory, not at your site. However, get this clarified, as there may be some discretion. If you turbine needs work under warranty, find out if the service call by the installer to trouble shoot the problem covered, along with their mileage. What about de-installation labor and re-installation of any parts or the whole turbine? A crane, if required? Shipping, both ways? In all likelihood, some but not all costs may be covered under warranty, but knowing what is and what isn’t up front may influence your purchasing decision. It’s also important that your installer knows what expenses are compensated by the manufacturer so that you are not caught in the middle of an expensive misunderstanding.
Another consideration is parts availability. As you research manufacturers, you’ll notice that several manufactures of certified turbines are not North American based. Your search for a suitable manufacture needs to include information about what parts are stocked on this continent and the lead time for parts that are not. Waiting months for a set of replacement blades, regardless of the location of the manufacturer, would not be fun. From my perspective, the most important department at any wind turbine manufacturer’s facility is tech support. You are going to need tech support for as long as you think you are going to own you turbine, hopefully decades. They are the important aspect of any small wind turbine manufacturer. If you call tech support but can only reach sales or legal, look elsewhere. “No tech support because there are no problems” they say, in denial? Look for another wind turbine and manufacturer.
And what’s not printed
Good manufacturers are focused on keeping their existing customers satisfied, not just mining new blood for the next sale. No amount of advertising dollars can replace a bad reputation. One of the best ways to screen for a good manufacturer is to seek out others’ experiences, with one caveat. Keep in mind that it is impossible to make absolutely everybody happy. Even the likes of Buddha had his detractors. There will always be someone who feels that he or she was not treated he way he or she wanted to be treated, or given what he or she demanded. I’ve had customers whose expectations I could not meet no matter what I did, include refund all of their money and tell them to keep the goods. That said, others experiences are golden, but only those with a name associated with them. You want to connect with real people, not a company shill, or the likes of the person who flames someone anonymously in a posting after a story reported on the web.
Any manufacturer will gladly give you references, but these are understandably all going to give the manufacturer an A+. A little digging will get you beyond the manufacturer’s shining examples to their reputation on the streets, and well worth the effort. Another gold mine of information about manufacturers are small turbine installers, your likely gobetween with the manufacturer. They’ll let you know loud and clear if they are interested and willing to work with any given manufacturer.