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Seattle inventor hopes Google contest will help rooftop wind turbine fly
A West Seattle man hopes his wind turbine will receive worldwide support from Google users.
Seattle Times staff reporter
See a video of the prototype: www.jellyfishwindpower.com
Imagine walking into a big-box retail store and grabbing a wind turbine off the shelf.
It makes perfect sense to West Seattle resident Chad Maglaque, who envisions a small wind turbine on every rooftop. Each would churn out energy to help power homes across Seattle.
"For me, so many of these [wind] systems just aren't practical," Maglaque said, referring to expenses and inspections needed to install other wind devices. "I should be able to go down to Costco and pick one up by a big jar of mayonnaise."
Maglaque, 42, an inventor since childhood, does freelance product management and strategy for technology companies. He was a vocal supporter of the failed Seattle Monorail Project a few years ago.
He's entered his wind-turbine idea in Google's "Project 10 to the 100th" contest, which, to celebrate the company's 10th birthday, will award $10 million to five innovative ideas that seek, in simple terms, to change the world.
"We thought this would be an interesting way to celebrate, and it goes with the Googley culture," said company spokesman Jamie Yood. "Google is very much about democratizing the world. You might have this great idea but no way to share it."
Google employees worldwide are wading through more than 100,000 entries submitted in 25 different languages. They're narrowing the field to 100 entries, and starting Tuesday the public can vote to name the top 20. A Google advisory panel will pick the five winning projects.
Contestants could submit a short YouTube video explaining their ideas in categories such as energy, education and health. Maglaque's video is one of the most viewed among all of the projects.
He calls his idea a simple one that combines several everyday parts into a wind-power generator. The 3-foot turbine would be mounted on a rooftop or wind tower and plugged directly into an outdoor electrical socket.
The turbine's variable-speed motor — similar to those found in a blender or ceiling fan — is then connected directly to the electrical grid.
The turbine is equipped with a device that senses when there is enough wind to operate. That automatically turns the motor on, allowing the wind-driven turbine to generate electricity to be used in the home or fed back to the grid.
A handful of small wind turbines already have been developed, but they require an expensive converter to take variable wind energy and turn it into a uniform current appropriate for the grid.
Maglaque says his design doesn't need a converter and can be plugged directly into the grid. He hopes his prototype, called the Jellyfish wind turbine, will be easy for homeowners to use.
Maglaque started building the wind turbine last spring in his garage. Three thin blades resembling those on a helicopter are placed vertically on a spinning platform and whirl when the wind blows.
The prototype cost Maglaque less than $100 to build, but he expects each turbine would sell for $400 or $500.
He said one turbine should generate about 40 kilowatt hours each month, enough to light a home using high-efficiency bulbs.
"It's not going to power the whole house," Maglaque said. "But it's about doing every little bit."
Such a design is feasible, said Thomas Key, technical lead for the Electric Power Research Institute renewables program. But the turbine would have to obtain an industry-standard safety certification, and projects that feed electricity back to the grid require approval by local utilities, he said.
Though he called Maglaque's design "elegantly simple," Key said he doubts small wind turbines on homes will ever be successful. He said the best wind is in higher places with fewer obstructions, and often cities have strict height and noise restrictions.
"Wind's a great thing, but I think it's a little bigger-scale," Key said.
Maglaque's design spins at half the speed of a typical turbine, cutting the noise level down to that of a quiet conversation, he said.
Maglaque said he's not discouraged by existing land-use restrictions or certifications. In his project application to Google, he said he would use the contest money to pursue proper certifications and push for policy change among governments and utilities to allow the devices to operate.
Michelle Ma: 206-464-2303 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Michelle Ma: 206-464-2303 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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