Since 2010 the small wind industry in North America has been in steep decline. First Congress turned its back on the industry in the United States. Then the descent accelerated with the rapid fall in the cost of solar energy. Why install a small wind turbine when solar had become so cheap.
The hammer blows have continued to come hard and fast in the past two years. The sudden collapse of Canadian manufacturer Endurance in 2016 shocked everyone. At one time successful in installing hundreds of its small to medium-size turbines in North America, the rapidly expanding company overextended itself in the European market and then–poof–it was gone.
Now we learn that Home Power Magazine, the spunky publication that for 31 years told its readers how to install wind and solar in their own back lots is publishing its last issue in November. HP, as it was affectionately known, was ground zero in the guerrilla solar movement unofficially encouraging people to install solar and wind energy with–or without–their local utility’s permission.
To cap a very bad year, the Small Wind Conference, who for 14 years brought together an irreverent assembly of installers and manufacturers, decided that the time had come to turn out the lights. The Small Wind Conference had become an institution known for turning a critical eye towards the flaws of the small wind industry while engaging participants in fun and games–and not a few beers. The brainchild of Mick Sagrillo and Roy Butler, the conference was infused with their wit and humor. The conference continued its decade-long run with the perseverance of Trudy Forsyth and a dedicated team of organizers, including Brent Summerville and Jenny Heinzen, as well as many others.
For many years I promised myself I’d get to one of the Small Wind Conferences to see for myself what the fuss was all about. Wisely I attended the 2013 conference where Mick Sagrillo presented me with the conference’s first Lifetime Achievement Award. The award? A 21-inch Klein adjustable wrench–a symbol of the conference’s purpose–and a hard hat. Sagrillo, in the spirit of the conference, good-naturedly pointed out that I was the only person there in a business suit.
In 2017 I was invited back as the keynote speaker and this year, 2018, I chose to become one of the gathering’s sponsors by donating copies of my new book to all attendees. And in 2018 I finally broke down and ditched the suit.
Times change, the principals have all grown older, and the market has dwindled. It had become time to move on. It will be sad not to see old friends and fellow pioneers. I am glad I got to the Small Wind Conferences when I did and that I was able to participate in a small way.
Brent Summerville has put together a touching video revisiting some of the highlights–and hijinks–of past conferences.
Despite the limited market, small wind turbines continue to be manufactured in the United States. Both longtime manufacturers Bergey Windpower and Northern Power Systems continue to build wind turbines for the North American and international markets.
For his part, Sagrillo doesn’t think it’s an end of an era as much as another hiatus in the fortunes of small wind. As during the dark days of the Reagan administration in the 1980s when everyone had written off the industry, it roared back to life in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So too now. “Small wind will be back,” predicts Sagrillo. Climate change demands all hands on deck, including the contribution from small wind turbines.
- The Long & Winding Road to Today’s Small Wind Industry. Keynote presentation to the 2017 Small Wind Conference 11 April in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Small Wind Conference Gives Gipe Lifetime Achievement Award