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'Small wind' turbines blow onto rooftops

Are consumers and businesses ready for small turbines or 'building-integrated' wind generators? Companies such as AeroVironment are hoping so.

Although still in the shadow of its giant counterparts, small-scale wind turbines are slowly starting to reshape the wind industry.

AeroVironment last week said 18 of its Architectural Wind turbines are now installed at a new Kettle Foods Potato Chip factory in Beloit, Wisconsin.

One model of Aerovironment's Architectural Wind small turbines. AeroVironment

The turbines are still in development, but the company has installed a number around the country. They were also used by students from Texas A&M University at the Solar Decathlon solar-home competition.

AeroVironment is targeting commercial customers rather than people's homes. But other companies have developed turbines suited for houses.

Southwest Windpower's Air Breeze is aimed at the residential market and can generate 38 kilowatt hours per month.

Another company, Mariah Power, has designed a vertical axis turbine that can be used in either homes or commercial buildings. Its Windspire turbines are about 30 feet high and can be placed on their side or standing up. Each turbine, which produces about 1 kilowatt of electricity, costs about $5,000 installed, according to CEO Michael Hess. The company already has 1,500 units on order.

Texas A&M's concept for how small wind can work at home. Martin LaMonica/CNET News.com

Although wind power is clean and cost-competitive, with fossil fuel power generation for utilities and a cost potentially less than those for solar photovoltaics, it is far from cracking the residential and commercial market.

Wind power suffers from not-in-my-backyard sentiment. And indeed, in spaces like American suburbia, wind turbines can disturb neighbors with noise or shadows.

Still, small wind, or a microwind, turbines could make sense for placement on rooftops of large buildings or integration into a building's design.

I'd like to create a photo gallery of small-wind products. Please write to me at martin.lamonica@cnet.com with any products you've seen. Also, feel free to share your experiences with them.

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.