People Making a Difference: An Interview with Andy Kruse of Southwest Windpower

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For this installment of our series on People Making a Difference, we are very pleased to present an interview with Andy Kruse, the co-founder and Executive Vice President of Southwest Windpower. Southwest Windpower is the World’s leading manufacturer of personal size wind energy systems. Southwest Windpower makes the Skystream 3.7, which is a small wind generator designed specifically for the grid-connected residential market.

Mr. Kruse has been involved in renewable energy since 1986. He has worked in over 70 countries promoting wind energy. He has a background in Management and International Marketing.

Kruse is the author of various articles about renewable energy and has won several awards for export development. He also sits on several advisory boards for renewable energy.

We thank Mr. Kruse for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do the interview!

1. First of all, tell us about yourself and how you began working in the alternative energy industry.

I don’t really like writing about myself so we will leave that part to an interview. : ) I got into the renewable energy business just over 20 years ago. I was living on a ranch in Northern Arizona that had no access to grid electricity. I thought there must be a better way than rebuilding the Ranch’s diesel generator every couple of years. At that time, we were spending as much as $300 a month in fuel. I then decided to build a small solar PV system to supplement the generator. I also thought it would be great to have a small wind generator that could charge the battery bank. After trying and failing to build one myself, I learned about a neighbor that live several miles to the north who had built several machines for friends. His name is David Calley. I inquired about his machines. After having seen his invention, I thought this would make a terrific business opportunity. The ranching business never proved profitable so after leaving that life, David and I built Southwest Windpower.

2. People have a lot of misconceptions about wind power. What would you like to share with our readers about the benefits and potential issues associated with this technology?

About all of these misconceptions are outdated. The wind energy industry has been one of the fastest growing forms of energy over the last 10 years. Wind energy was once expensive, now it is very competitive with conventional energy. They were noisy, Today’s machines turn much slower and have advanced airfoils (blades) that make them operate quietly. Others are concerned with birds. The industry has worked together with concerned citizens to minimize the impact on wildlife. Today’s wind systems have very little or no impact on birds. The President of the National Audubon Society recently stated in a speech that Global warming is a far greater threat to birds than wind turbines.

3. What were your goals for the company when you started Southwest Windpower? How have those goals changed if at all since that time?

The number one goal and it still remains our highest priority – That is to make a difference in the world through the design, production and distribution of low cost reliable small scale wind generators. Today, our products can be found in over 120 countries. The second goal is to have fun doing it.

4. Do you think that wind power is easier to market outside of the U.S.? If so, why is the U.S. slower to catch on?

Yes it is easier to market outside the U.S. – This primarily stems from education and government policy. People in Europe and elsewhere understand the importance of how clean renewable energy can benefit them and often embrace it rather than resisting. With that said, the U.S. still makes up half of our annual revenue and is the largest consumer of residential scale wind generators (with the exception of China). Policy in America must be focused on energy security through the development of our own renewable resources. There is enough wind energy in one state to provide many times more the energy we need to power the entire country.

5. It seems like we’re just around the corner from moving away from a fossil fuel based society. The will is emerging and the innovations are there. What do you see as the most viable new wind power technologies that could help the average home owner reduce their use of fossil fuels?

Consumers can benefit from wind energy in two ways. First is to purchase green credits from a large wind farm. This is an ideal solution for a person wanting to make a difference but cannot afford or lacks the room for their own wind generator or they live in an area with little or no wind. The second way is to invest in a residential wind generator. Before they do, I always suggest focus on conservation and energy efficient products. Residential scale wind generators of a few decades ago required frequent repairs, scheduled maintenance and were noisy. The machines of today are exceptionally quiet, easy to install and require little or no maintenance. The big picture for all people is to find ways to reduce their impact either through energy efficiency and energy production.

6. Are there other innovations in wind energy that you are excited about?

First is the constant reduction in the cost of energy. Historically, the main challenge has been the competitiveness of wind energy. That is and will continue to come down. Large wind is competitive with coal and natural gas. Small residential wind is competitive with the retail cost of electricity. Residential wind systems are not as mature of an industry as large wind and some of the new technologies such as internet communications and remote monitoring will be available in the next few years.

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7. What general advice do you have for the average person who is looking to make changes in their lifestyle to help improve the environment?

A difficult thing for most people is changing their lifestyle. Fortunately investing in technology can allow people to reduce their impact on the environment while at the same time not necessarily changing their lifestyle habits. However, once that first step is made, that is reducing energy consumption through the investment in energy efficient and renewable energy products, the next steps of becoming carbon neutral are very easy.


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