Clarian Technologies Aims to Take Financial Sting Out of Wind Power with Jellyfish Turbine
[Updated with comments from Kelly Jo MacArthur on page 2]
In recent years, we have seen an explosion of alternative energy devices, yet most of these technologies remain out of the reach of the average homeowner. To outfit your roof with solar panels, you’d probably be out $10,000 to $20,000 as an initial investment. Clarian Technologies, a brand new, three-employee Seattle startup, wants to change all that. With its products slated to hit the market in 2010, the company aims to bring affordable wind and solar energy devices to the masses. I spoke with Clarian founder Chad Maglaque to find out more.
The two products that he hopes are coming to stores near you soon are the Jellyfish (wind turbine) and Sunfish (solar panels). Maglaque’s vision is that an ecologically-minded but not necessarily wealthy homeowner could pick up one of these at Home Depot, Best Buy, or Costco, set it up on their roof or in the garden, plug it into a regular power outlet, and start generating electricity—without having to bring in a contractor, electrician, or inspector.
The cost? The starting price for the Jellyfish is $399, and the Sunfish is $899. Clarian is already talking with Costco about stocking the devices, Maglaque said.
In currently available wind and solar technologies, a device called the inverter is a big cost hurdle, Maglaque said. That’s the part of the technology that converts DC to AC current that can be used in your home, and adds at least $3,000 to $4,000 to the price tag. “We wanted to tackle that with the view that smaller is better,” Maglaque said.
So Clarian’s products don’t actually need the inverter. This isn’t a new concept, Maglaque said. Large industrial wind turbines don’t use inverters either.
When Maglaque explains how few obstacles there are to a plug-and-go wind or solar energy generator, it seems like there’s a huge hole in the alternative energy market. The existing plugs in your house are coded to take an appliance up to 1,500 watts. But a 1,500 watt solar panel array would normally cost $15,000 to $20,000, Maglaque said. “There are not many people who can afford to do that,” he said. “That’s where there is this disconnect in the market.”
Enter the Jellyfish, which is three feet tall and can be mounted on a roof “like a satellite dish,” Maglaque said. It’s a 400 watt device, and produces about 40 kilowatt hours per month, which would be enough to power the lighting of an average house using high-efficiency light bulbs (such as compact fluorescent lights). “The beauty is that it could expand up to 1,500 watts,” Maglaque said, because the appliances can be “daisy-chained” together—so you could have a string of Jellyfishes or Sunfishes (or a mix) that would bring the monthly energy generation up to 180 kilowatt hours.
Utility companies are also interested in Clarian’s products, Maglaque said, because the technology can feed power back into the energy grid when it’s not needed at home. Since energy is constantly flowing back and forth between the grid and the buildings it powers, if you left the Jelllyfish or Sunfish on all the time and you weren’t home or were using very little power, the device could actually return power to the utility company. The utilities could then return an annual dividend to homeowners, depending on how much energy each home generated for the company.
This capability depends on another characteristic of the devices, which is that they are equipped with Wi-Fi and can be connected to the Internet, where the owners, Clarian, and utility companies could all monitor their productivity. So when someone buys a Jellyfish or Sunfish, after plugging it in, they can get online and register it with Clarian, Maglaque said, “kind of like a TiVo for renewable energy.”
With the combination of buying a Jellyfish, outfitting your home with compact fluorescent lights, and getting some returns from the utility company, the payback time for these initial investments could be as low as two to five years, he said.
Maglaque comes from a software and technology background, having moved to Seattle 15 years ago for a job at RealNetworks. Before starting Clarian with co-founder Dell Keehn, Maglaque worked as a freelance product management consultant. He had a position for a while involved with one of the bid teams for the Seattle monorail, a project he felt very passionate about. “There’s a definite theme here,” he said, “whether it’s electrical consumption or getting people out of their cars to use public transportation.”
“Many people who purchase hybrid or smart cars, or outfit their homes or buildings with solar panels today do not expect to get a ‘return on investment’ in the traditional sense, but expect to get it in other ways—if enough of us do it, we send a signal to lawmakers, corporations, our neighbors about our priorities,” said Kelly Jo MacArthur, a consultant for Clarian (and former RealNetworks veteran). “The Jellyfish and other Clarian products allow people to participate much more immediately, simply, affordably.”
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