The split-axis solar array for Jim Weston in Greene, ME. Uses all-black American made Suniva solar modules
After an initial horror story with an early wind turbine, Jim Weston of Greene has settled on the perfect renewable combination: a new generation Pika Energy wind turbine and a solar electric array installed by ReVision Energy.
Jim first installed his Raum turbine in the mid-2000s, when “wind was hot” in Maine. Unfortunately, the Raum turbine rarely lived up to advertised production figures and in 2012, the turbine failed completely. By that time both the original installer and Raum Energy were out of business, and Jim was left wondering what to do with a 100 foot tower installed on his wide-open property in Greene – an excellent place to capture wind, if the right technology was employed.
ReVision Energy has heard similar stories from other owners of small scale wind turbines, and so when we met Jim at the Common Ground Fair in 2012 we understood his skepticism that solar would work as advertised. However, in the years since Jim had last looked at solar, costs had dropped by more than 50%, and no longer required batteries, making solar a much more cost-effective investment than it had been in years past.
ReVision Energy sent our seasoned solar design expert Will Kessler to evaluate Jim’s home, which had ample shade-free area on his roof, but a tricky configuration because part of the roof faced southeast and other part southwest. Kessler designed a split-array, with modules on both parts of Jim’s roof. The system utilizes Enphase microinverters so that performance would remain at peak capacity despite the differences in angle and azimuth between the two arrays.
Since the installation, Jim has reported that the solar array has performed “just as promised” and had almost an entire year without electric bills, only exhausting his solar credits during the challenging solar month of December, 2013.
A Local Company Revives Wind
While happy with his solar array, Jim wanted to do something with his 100 foot tower and thought that the wind resource blowing across his property might still be the right way. When Jim started looking into wind again, he found that a Westbrook-based startup, Pika Energy, was re-inventing the small wind turbine market with a new generation of turbines that addressed shortcomings of the older technology.
Pika Energy, led by co-founders Ben Polito and Joshua Kaufman, recently moved into a 4,300 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Westbrook where the 10-person-and-growing company is transitioning from an R&D operation into a scale manufacturer of leading-edge wind technology. In addition to innovations with their T701 Wind Turbine, Pika also has a unique inverter product which allows a home to have a ‘micro grid’ featuring both solar and wind production on the same system. The system is accessible via smartphone and web portal and offers a robust amount of technical data for both the homeowner (for education) and Pika’s engineers (for troubleshooting). While focused on growing its manufacturing operation in Maine, Pika is building a national network of trained dealers to sell and install Pika wind-solar hybrid systems.
Pika’s T701 turbine has several advantages over prior units, including better overheat protection, more robust stopping mechanisms, and a vastly superior alternator which is built by hand in their state-of-the-art facility. The turbines are subjected to strenuous performance tests where they are subject to extreme heat, cold, and wind pressure to ensure that they perform as expected in adverse weather and over time.
Jim commissioned Pika to install one of their turbines at his property, which was excellent fit due to proper siting of the existing tower. Even advanced technology will fail when not installed in the correct place, and wind turbines work best when installed on a tower at least 30′ higher than surrounding objects with open space to the prevailing direction of the wind.
Jim reports that the Pika team worked smoothly in the installation of the turbine, and so far he is impressed with its performance compared to his older turbine. “Though the old one was rated at a higher output, I think the Pika turbine will provide much more actual electricity,” he says, “Plus it’s a lot quieter. It’s less than 30 feet from our home and we can hardly hear it.”
Even more importantly, the combination of solar and wind finally allows Jim to have the renewable energy synergy he’s dreamed of since retirement. “I’m really pleased with where we are now,” he says, “The byproduct of not having oil under our soil is war. The wind and the sun – we have plenty of these and they are in abundant supply. It makes me feel a lot better about my impact on the planet.”
Take Virtual Tour of Pika’s Wind Turbine Manufacturing Plant in Maine
Manufacturing Innovation at Pika Energy from Pika Energy.