Truth About Skystream & SWWP

Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
Hello,

This is my first post. I am a former longtime Southwest Windpower employee. I worked there for 10 years. I was recently laid off by Southwest Windpower along with 13 other loyal employees and, knowing them as well as I do, know that they will not be bringing us back.

Therefore, I feel compelled to tell the truth about Skystream and, especially, Southwest Windpower. The truth is, Southwest Windpower has not truly been about reliable renewable energy ever since the new investors took over and Frank Greco became CEO. Granted, the Air 303 was unreliable due to the potted circuit without a heat sink. And the Air 403 was loud as hell. The early 403s had a circuit reliability problem. I know, because I am the guy who discovered it to be the triac pads. The Air-X had teething problems, too. Let's not even get into the fact that the Air Marine powdercoat lifespan was measured in weeks before it began flaking and peeling. Then we had the Air Marine blade disintegration issue.

We thought when the investors came on and we got a CEO, that everything would be great. Money for product improvements, and so forth. The investors probably don't know how their money has been spent the last few years. But I can assure you quite a bit has been wasted. We were told that with Skystream (it was called Storm back in the beginning), we were "going to do it right this time". Well, not long into the release of Skystream, the old-school employees there realized that, once again, we were decidedly NOT "going to do it right this time". To begin with, problems cropped up with Skystream right from the beginning. These were not discovered in the beta-testing because only a few months of beta-testing were done. By far, most of the testing was done at founder David Calley's house out in Cosnino. You see, this is why the "cold weather problem" never showed up in beta-testing----because the thing was never actually beta-tested in winter. But, you need to understand something. The job never was to actually ensure a reliable turbine. The main job was to do an IPO and take the company public so the investors could garner their profit. Skystreams were sent out the door that should not have. This still goes on, from what I hear.

From its launch, Skystream had serious problems. The engineers couldn't figure out what was going on. One of these problems, though not apparant to the owners, is that Skystream is not in compliance with FCC regulations regarding EMI interference. Southwest Windpower has shipped Skystreams anyway. Other problems are related to failures of the internal inverter and boards. Now, you would think that Southwest Windpower would have learned its lesson about putting the electronics inside the turbine from their experience with the Air series. But, they took it one step further with Skystream: They put the inverter inside it also!

Now, in the beginning, Paul Gipe correctly identified a major flaw with Skystream. It has no mechanical brake. The overspeed protection is strictly electronic. Kind of scary with a blade span such as that on Skystream. Southwest Windpower assured everyone it was almost fail-safe and dismissed Paul's concerns as they always do. Except Paul Gipe was right. Due to hardware, part, and engineering changes with Skystream that happen almost monthly, some of the hatchcover bolts were not snugged down tight in production. Rain would get inside the Skystream and short the electronic overspeed production, whose circuit was conveniently located in the bottom of the turbine where the water pooled. Some turbines "ran away" and the blades pretty much exploded. Exactly as Paul Gipe said it could. This is when Southwest Windpower sent out those notices to drill a "weep hole" in the bottom of the Skystream housing. But this didn't happen without a lot of "How is this going to look??!!" talk first, several meetings, and so on.

You see, the game plan was to hype Skystream, generate a bunch of interest, take the company public, and Frank Greco pops his golden parachute. Maybe if Southwest Windpower pumped as much money into actual beta-testing Skystream as they did in the marketing and PR, they would have a functional turbine. But that would first require a paradigm shift in the corporate thinking that goes on within Southwest Windpower. For one thing, none of the executive management at Southwest Windpower has any renewable energy experience. They were selected with the eye on "taking the company public". In fact, almost none of the managers had any previous renewable energy experience. Granted, that's not the be-all, end-all of qualifications. But you should at least have someone who knows what a wind turbine can and cannot do making the decisions. For example, you don't market the thing as a 1.8kw and then come back later with, "Gosh, it's really a 2.4kw...." when you learn it needs to be that for certain state incentive programs. You don't say it'll "spin your meter backwards" when anyone with a calculator can see it could take up to 25 years to pay for itself.

You'll see a lot of people saying, "Hey, I own one and it works great! It really does what they say and never has problems!" I can tell you that many of those people happen to be Southwest Windpower dealers. The fact is, there are a lot of very unhappy Skystream customers out there. The phone rings nonstop for Tech Support. I know because I've heard it. It can take several days for people to get a response at times due to the workload and number of cases. This is because the final verdict on Skystream is: SHIP PRODUCT. Period. No matter what, SHIP PRODUCT. Period. Might fail? Oh, well. Deal with it later.

And as far as the other wind turbines? The Air and Whisper? Well, all I can tell you is, buyer beware. I've seen what goes into them and where it all comes from. I wouldn't buy one at 1/4 the price. But, to be very honest, I wouldn't buy anyone's wind turbine. Too many companies run like Southwest Windpower. Fast buck first and damn the customer.

Some will say, well, you came on here and slammed Southwest Windpower. I was a loyal employee for 10 years. I gave them a month to do the right thing and bring back 14 loyal employees before I blew the whistle. They got $10 million dollars in new investment money and made it clear they're not hiring us back. They said so in the paper. They're taking that money to expand their operations in China. Hmmm......kind of like the companies Southwest used to slam for that same practice, eh? A couple days after they laid us off, they were advertising to hire ANOTHER manager on top of the several layers they already have. So, I am now officially blowing the whistle. Let me be the first to say that you should not even consider buying a Skystream. I've seen and heard. I was there. From the very beginning. So, I no longer owe this kind of company my continued loyalty or silence. Anyone here wants to ask questions, ask away. I know the truth. And I will share it.
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Comments

  • peakbaggerpeakbagger Solar Expert Posts: 332 ✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Good luck on your future employment, depressingly the script is real familiar with only the names changed. Renewable power firms once they get the IPO bug typically will do whatever they have to go public, even if they ruin the future of the company . Even if the management doesnt want to, they typically have already sold their soul to the devil via their initial financing, so if the current management doesnt do it, the finance folks will find someone new to do it.

    A friend of mine rode the renewable bandwagon for 20 years, he finally got off of it after deciding that having a company go out from under him every two or three years got old after awhile.
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,311 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    although we here probably believe most of what you say based on the complaints we have seen here, but your employment for 10yrs can be viewed as hush money so i take it with a grain what it is you say because of that and that you are an admitted disgruntled ex-employee.
  • Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Well, Niel, I started with the company thinking it was a good place to work. And while it did have its problems, it was a good place to work when David and Andy were running it. When you put years into a company thinking you can make a difference (and I did, when I could), it's hard to walk away from it. I did put my *ss on the line because people asked me personally about buying Skystream and I told them the truth. I have to see those people around town; what, I'm going to tell them to buy it? Of course not. I took a risk every time I told someone that. Nobody paid me "hush money". I earned a wage to do a job. There is a difference. The information is yours to do as you wish with.

    There's a difference, also, between a disgrunted employee and one with a legitimate complaint. When loyalty is not rewarded, then to what extent do I owe loyalty to that employer? I now have the chance to tell the truth to people who might otherwise buy this product and find out the hard way. I have no reason to lie about Southwest Windpower. Sure, take it with a grain of salt. But I have been there. I have no need to make anything up.
  • Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    A bit off topic in a way. But there were some people among the 14 laid off who were affected in a very bad way by being laid off. You would have had to see the faces of the people you worked with for years and see what this did to them. SWWP didn't even have the decency to wait until the end of the month to lay off so people could pay their rent. We were called into a company meeting Thursday where it was announced there would be layoffs and, two hours later, those being laid off were told. This from a company running around with ads trying to tout themselves as being "responsible". Yeah, well, responsible isn't hiring another six-figure exec and then laying off 14 people a couple weeks after that. Responsible isn't saying you have a "hiring freeze" and keep on hiring admin and office staff, and then laying off 14 people. And as I said, they are advertising for another manager right now. How "Green" is running a company like that?

    Again, people who gave their loyalty to that company were thrown out like the day's garbage. You need to ask yourself this: If they treat loyal, long-term employees like that, how are they going to treat their customers? That is pretty evident.
  • backroadbackroad Solar Expert Posts: 185 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    WOW....thems some pretty bad statements about SWWP, disgruntled employee or not. It's probably a good thing that wind power has such a bad rep as a whole and I'm not really in the market for this part of re-newable.....But as most, still hoping for something that will work with the wind. I do have a couple of neighbors that are happy with their small units...

    Backroad in Bagdad..................................AZ....
  • Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Generally, the Whisper 100 has been a fairly good unit overall, or at least it was (or can be). The Whisper 200, wellll......no.

    The Air series is hit or miss. Depends on a lot of factors. You might have great luck with one and someone else have nothing but problems.

    The point I'd like to make is: How long do you think you'll get parts for your turbine from SWWP? I was there when they stopped carrying circuits for the old Air 303. We sold 403 Upgrade Kits. People bought those thinking, ok, they'll just suck it up and have a 403. Well, later, 403 owners were then being sold on a "Air-X Trade Up". See, 403 circuits are going bye-bye. This within 10 years. Now, if they project Skystream as having a 20 year lifespan, yet the Air couldn't maintain parts availability for 10 years per version, do you really think that Skystream parts will be interchangeable some years down the road when your warranty expires? As I said, engineering changes happen on that thing quite often.

    Ok, how many people bought Windseekers, raise your hand? Can you get parts for them? From SWWP?

    This is what I mean. You sell a product that you run around touting "20 year lifespan" and so on, you need to have parts available at least that long.

    I'd like to see small wind work. But it is 50 years out with the current crop of people running the industry. Look, Skystream was 5 years in R&D before it was released. I know, because I saw it going on from Day One. The Skystream (Storm, as it was called then) was a DOE grant that rode in as part of the package when Southwest Windpower bought World Power. So, it's now 2009 and Skystream still has major problems. So, the Skystream has actually been in development almost 10 years, since engineering work is still going on with it. So, this is why I say reliable small wind is at least 50 years out.

    For small wind to work, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way the manufacturers run. Like I said, you need to first get people in there who have experience in this field. You need to listen to the guys in the warranty department. You need to listen to your production crew. You need to listen to your engineers when they warn you something is not ready. But, most of all, you need to spend your money first in quality. Build a quality, reliable turbine and then test, test, test and make sure it IS reliable. Make sure the output is what you say it is. You need a solid year of beta-test units all over the country in every environment. And you know who you need to listen to? The dealers installing them and the customers. If the customer tells you something is happening, don't come back with, "That's impossible!" Investigate! If you need to shut the line down, then do it! Suck it up and make it right. Train your dealers on installs. Not everyone is cut out to be an installer now matter how good a game they talk. You don't go ahead and make them dealer-installers anyway. A bad install is as bad as a defective turbine. Then, once you've got your turbine solid, quality, and proven to be reliable and the output absolutely is what you say it is, THEN you launch your marketing blitz. THEN you make money.

    People want to make a quick buck for the least cash outlay and the least effort. These people do not belong in small wind. I can't tell you how many people have almost banged their heads on walls in frustration because they want to build a quality product and the company thinks it costs too much money to do that. Even though warranty costs are eating the company alive. If you don't have time to build something right the first time, when will you have the time to build it right?
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,311 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    for the record i have been in your position and you have straightened any misconceptions with me on the matter of swwp. i know you are mad right now and rightly so, but there will come a time to refocus forward. they will fall on their faces unless they get a bailout.:cry::roll: there are many good people here and although this started off somewhat wrong, welcome. i would consider you an asset to this forum as you are in a position to help many who have these things and you can give inside advice to them concerning any possible solutions.8):D
  • backroadbackroad Solar Expert Posts: 185 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Niel....don't I remember you saying that you had one of SWWP's tubines doing dumpster time at your house? They wouldn't hardly give you the time of day over the phone and would not call back?????
  • mike95490mike95490 Solar Expert Posts: 7,249 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Too bad the plans for the Jacobs <sp?> aren't around. I've heard one of those is still spinning at the south pole.
    Powerfab top of pole PV mount | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
    || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
    || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

    solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
    gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister ,

  • jacobsjacobs Solar Expert Posts: 72 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP
    mike90045 wrote: »
    Too bad the plans for the Jacobs <sp?> aren't around. I've heard one of those is still spinning at the south pole.

    I personally own 4 complete early 1930 - 1957 3kw Jacobs wind generators. Lots of them still around. Very simple design.....just a dc generator with a mechanical governor that pitches the blades. Simple but probably very expensive to make compared to similar sized wind turbines currently on the market.

    Dakota Wind and Sun attempted to market copies of the old Jacobs generators back in the early 1980's but couldn't compete with the other cheep products that were being marketed at that time.
  • halfcrazyhalfcrazy Solar Expert Posts: 717 ✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    I have to agree the only turbine i would mess with from SWWP is the whisper 100.

    I thought i heard or read somewhere that SWWP was getting something like 10 million dollars from the stimulus money to help make small wind better for America?
  • WindsunWindsun Solar Expert Posts: 1,164 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    They got $10,000,000 from GE and "other investors", not sure why GE would be investing in SWWP, but that is what happened. It supposedly got some stimulous money so it could move it's production to China, not sure how much... :confused:

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10213206-54.html
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,311 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP
    backroad wrote: »
    Niel....don't I remember you saying that you had one of SWWP's tubines doing dumpster time at your house? They wouldn't hardly give you the time of day over the phone and would not call back?????

    no, that wasn't me as my place isn't conducive to a hawt. my place would be better suited for a vawt, but i never plunged into it because of the poor machines that seem so abundant.
  • backroadbackroad Solar Expert Posts: 185 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Opps...sorry Niel....There I go thinking again....:D
  • homerramirezhomerramirez Solar Expert Posts: 102 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Even I do not own any wind turbine, is sad to hear that someone has lost a job because a company goes overseas, (we all one day might become china's slaves, no offense), in the other hand it will be good to hear SWWP side of the story, by the way, companies has no feelings, most of them are after the money, in any company you can find good, bad and careless employees when it comes to coustumer service, but, a continuos thrend of complaints about the product, sure it does reflect the aproach of the top executives regarding quality policy.

    again, it will be good to hear the SWWP side of the story.

    Sorry about you been laid off, I been working 16yrs. for the same company and still belive that companies has no feelings...one day we all have to move on....I always have the feeling that it will be for the better and their's problems will be mine no more.....;)

    good luck ;)
  • Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Niel, yes, I would be more than happy to help anyone who has these turbines any way I can. I hope I can be of help to people.

    I think the best possible advice I can give is: Don't buy one. If you already own one, the only way to get action if SWWP is blowing you off or stalling is to go public. I can tell you that if you post your experience on You Tube, it will get almost immediate attention. I know, because this happened once.

    Ok, so you've got a Skystream and it fails. You've called and gotten told it'll be weeks or months or some other unacceptable answer on getting you parts. Insist on a whole new Skystream. If they won't do that, then go public. First stop would be You Tube. Post a video of your non-working turbine. If you have any obviously damaged parts, show photos of them. That will usually get their immediate attention. If it doesn't, well, the following is up to you. Consider calling the Better Business Bureau. But I bet a complaint to your state's attorney generals office might get some prompter attention. I can't advise you to do these things, because these steps are up to you. I'm just saying if you are left with no recourse through the company and you've sunk, what, $12000+ into a non-functional turbine, you may need to take other action.

    On the $10 million that SWWP got from GE, that happened like one or two weeks after they laid us off. They made it very clear in the newspaper (Daily Sun) article that they were not going to hire back the 14 people because that money was for expanding operations in China. See, SWWP has a joint venture with China to produce wind turbines. Southwest Windpower basically lives on investment capital because they are not and have not been making a profit---managers in the company told me that. Of course, one would think in such circumstances they would be a bit more frugal than I know they have not been. About China, one wonders where that will end up. One wonders if the Flagstaff operation will remain open or not. Who knows? I heard Frank Greco and a couple execs left on a trip to China not long after getting the $10 mil.

    Homer Ramirez, Southwest Windpower would be more than happy to give you their side of the story. And it would, more than likely, be false. CEO Frank Greco would tell you "he's trying to save jobs". That's what he said in the meeting where we learned 14 of us were losing our jobs. Well, if he's trying to save jobs, what was he doing hiring a new Chief Technical Officer with a six-figure salary just a scant couple weeks before the layoff? What was he doing hiring a SECOND I.T. GUY the week before the layoff? What was he doing hiring anyone at all since there was supposed to be a hiring freeze in place during that period and before? Also, of the 14 people laid off, 10 came from the production floor. Seems to me if you're trying to save money (which is what he said in the meeting), you'd lay off some of the many highly-paid managers in there. He said sales were way down and that's why they needed to lay off people, yet not a single sales person was laid off. Hmmmm....sounds fishy, what? Four people in the office were laid off, and they were people with functions related to purchasing, production engineering, tech support, and marketing. Also, if they're "trying to save jobs", why did SWWP then only a couple days after the layoffs, start advertising for a "Strategic Accounts Manager"? It's on their website, and it says this position pays an annual salary of $75,000, plus commission and bonus with the possibility of paying up to annual of $200K+. So, Frank was trying to save jobs by laying off 14 people (mostly lower wage earners in the company) to save money, but suddenly Frank found $75,000+ to pay another manager. They started advertising for this before they got the $10 million. Bear in mind that Southwest Windpower already has a Sales Manager, a Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and some Sales Directors on top of Dealer Support reps who are also basically sales reps.


    Basically, Homer, Southwest Windpower would tell you what they think you want to hear. They've been doing that for some time now. I know, because I've seen them do it. They have a PR firm who helps them do just that.

    At the end of the day, this is the end result of a corporation that:

    a.) Does not listen to its employees. Specifically, the people designing, building, and repairing the product. And also the long-term employees who can remember why the company went to using that more expensive bolt back in 1999. Good employees only get more valuable as time goes on. They usually know how do do several things within the company and they remember all the little details of why something was done in the history of a product. The thinking that all employees are replaceable is ridiculous. Sure, you can replace them. But you can't replace the knowledge they took out the door with them.

    b.) Does not listen to its dealers. Especially the long term dealers. What good renewable energy dealers already forgot would take a new renewable energy manufacturer a lifetime to learn. Too many manufacturers feel the need to re-invent the wheel, starting with the square prototype. "Well, see, if we just add a rope, the square wheel doesn't need to roll at all! We can drag it!" The dealers can tell you what the market really wants. Marketing doesn't know what the market wants---that's a fiction. Marketing just invents ways to convince you to buy Beanie Babies. A good product damn near sells itself.

    c.) Does not listen to its customers. When a customer tells you something doesn't work, listen! They're not making it up just to tie up your phone lines. The customer has valuable insight. But as long as "customer" is said with eyes rolling to back of head, companies lose this valuable source on input on the product. Another thing. A guy I worked for many, many years ago had a motto on his company letterhead that said: "After the sale, it's the service that counts". If only all companies lived by that motto.

    d.) Does not listen to common sense. If you are not making a profit, but spend money like you're making huge profits, you're probably going to find yourself in deep financial trouble one day. And who pays for it? You, Mr. CEO? No, the employees who built the company you're piloting who count on you to make sound, reasonable decisions. And, sooner or later, the company itself may just go under. You can fol yourself, but you can't fool mathematics.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators Posts: 26,769 admin
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Truth Squad,

    With all that I have read before, understand about engineering, and from what you have posted...

    Is it worth the stress of trying to get an already purchased/installed repaired?

    From what I have read of others experiences and my little understanding of the design, even if the wind turbine gets repaired--it will fail again.

    How long, from your experience/knowledge, will a working wind turbine continue to function? Days, Months, Years--until the rain storm or freezing weather???? Random luck (99% work for years without problems)? Other limp along at a few percent of rated power?

    To a degree here--I would like to not make this thread into "beating a dead horse"...

    If the current design / components / assembly is not reliable--Trying to get one's money back (unlikely) or just walking away from the mess (and possibly look for another, better, wind turbine--if one exists--to put on the pole)?

    Are the problems that we see/read from the "outside" widespread and representative of the majority of the installed product base?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Bill, I will answer your questions as best as possible:

    "Is it worth the stress of trying to get an already purchased/installed repaired?"

    In my opinion, no. I have heard of multiple-failure Skystreams. Just taking it down once with a 45' or 60' tower is expensive---it involves a crane, since only the 33' tower is hinged to use a gin pole. Unless you own a crane, taking it down a second time basically pushes your payback period into several more years down the road. Unless, of course, you insist that Southwest Windpower pays for the total repair, including crane and all other costs. As long as it doesn't cost you anything out of pocket, you might then consider repair. Understanding, of course, that once it's out of warranty, this will now be coming out of your pocket.

    "How long, from your experience/knowledge, will a working wind turbine continue to function? Days, Months, Years--until the rain storm or freezing weather???? Random luck (99% work for years without problems)? Other limp along at a few percent of rated power?"


    Well, in my personal opinion, I can't see how the electronics would last a full 20 years. To say it has a 20 year lifespan is pure conjecture on the part of Southwest Windpower. The Skystream inverter is their own design. They haven't made one that lasted 20 years to prove it, therefore the 20 years is a projected lifespan. The blades probably won't last 20 years. I would give the majority of them, oh, about a 6 to 7 year lifespan. If I was feeling generous, I'd say some would last 10 to 12 years. I would NOT put money on saying half would work for years without problems. As far as the power it makes? Well, they started at saying it made 1.8kw and now they say it makes 2.4kw. Rather suspicious as to the real power output. What, they "didn't know" it was really a 2.4kw??? LOL!!!

    "If the current design / components / assembly is not reliable--Trying to get one's money back (unlikely) or just walking away from the mess (and possibly look for another, better, wind turbine--if one exists--to put on the pole)?"

    If it was me, I'd try like hell to get my money back and not install any other wind turbine. The current technology is not reliable. It's 50 years out from now, at least.

    "Are the problems that we see/read from the "outside" widespread and representative of the majority of the installed product base?"

    I would have to say it is certainly more than possible. I can't answer that with completely, because I don't know what the number of failures are versus the number sold AND installed (i.e. not on shelves) are. Those numbers can be fudged by companies to claim a "1% failure rate" when it's actually 10%. What I can tell you is that the problems I saw were totally unacceptable. I would say that you're taking a huge risk buying a Skystream because these problems exist. But I can't say, "Yes, the majority will absolutely fail" because I don't have facts to back that up. I won't do that because that's unethical to do and wouldn't be fair. I can only say that I do know of Skystreams that failed multiple times each. So, if the fix for the failure turns around and fails, then there isn't a fix, right? And I do know there is a heavy volume of tech calls. I can only say that I would not advise anyone to buy one.

    Does this help?
  • Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Bill, let me re-phrase my answer to this question:
    "Are the problems that we see/read from the "outside" widespread and representative of the majority of the installed product base?"

    What I mean to say is this. In my own opinion, based on what I have seen, I would say the vast majority will see problems. What I can't say is that the vast majority WILL fail as a fact. I believe they will based on what I have seen and because of the problems the ones that do fail exhibit----because they all have the same parts, of course, that failed. In other words, in my opinion, it's not an "if" but "when" kind of thing as far as problems with the vast majority.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators Posts: 26,769 admin
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Truth Squad...

    Fair enough.

    Without knowing the number shipped, installed, and number of failures--it would be difficult for somebody who has purchased and installed a system to make the decision on the fix (with out of pocket expenses for the rigging) and have to do the same thing a year down the road--or just bite the bullet, pay for the rigging once and pull the unit down (for safety, property values, and aesthetics sake).

    Given that you don't know (or cannot say) what the failure rates are--it probably does not help people already out there who have to make these decisions.

    I have a Grid Tied inverter for my solar array in my house... I will be tickled pink if it lasts 10-15 years. Even well built electronics are very susceptible to thermal cycling and the occasional over stress of an electrical spike or surge.

    Put the same electronics at the top of a 60 foot tower in a pod with torsional stresses and vibration, in full sun/rain/snow and the chances for failure are much higher... :confused:

    By the way, what are the maintenance requirements for the wind turbine? How often are the bearings lubricated/changed/any other service/etc.

    -Bill

    PS: Just saw your clarification. I understand you will not / cannot make statements that go beyond your knowledge (or other restrictions).
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Well, they tout Skystream as "maintenance free". Meaning no lubrication, etc. Bear in mind, the Skystream is marketed to the residential homeowner. Not the tech-savvy renewable energy folks that used to traditionally buy (and knew how to fix their own systems and maintain them.) So, actually, this thing was supposed to be put up and left up. That was the theory.

    Yes, I can't say to a current Skystream owner "You have to do this" or what-not. I can only advise based on what I know and have seen. But here's some other parameters to consider if your Skystream fails.

    Ok, how much power is it producing? Does it pay to take it down and repair it instead of pushing for a refund? I mean, if you're not getting much power out of it, then what's your payback going to look like after the warranty expires and you need to hire a crane? How much aggravation does it cause?

    Failure rates are things most companies keep very secret. They will tell the public it's 1%, when in fact it isn't. There are people who know the true failure rates for Skystream. But they are in management. You can't "check the math", so to speak, when companies tell you their failure rate is thus-and-so. Simply because they can re-classify actual defects as "improper installs" or "customer did such-and-such wrong". Or, you can dump some repairs into a "product upgrade" category. There's a lot a company can do to put a happy face on to a seriously high warranty return rate.

    So, yes, it is up to the current Skystream owner to do what is best for themselves. I wouldn't want to try and tell someone, "You must do this" when that might not work for their own situation. But what I can do is offer advice to the best of my knowledge. If someone has a Skystream they're happy with, hey, I truly am happy for them. I mean that. I think if they're happy with it, they should by all means keep it. And fix it if necessary. The idea behind the Skystream isn't what's at fault here. It's the way Southwest Windpower has been carrying it off that is the problem. So, if a Skystream is working for someone and they're happy, that's outstanding. More power to them (if you'll pardon the pun.) But if someone is having nothing but problems, and is at the end of their rope with it, then I can offer advice based on the situation. There will be things I can see based on what took place. I can offer advice, but everyone needs to use their own best judgement and do what they feel works best for them in their own particular situation.
  • gostgost Registered Users Posts: 9
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Another new guy here. I'm a dealer/installer for SWWP and thought I might contribute to this dialog.

    We have so far installed 3 Skystreams and have 2 more sold, awaiting install. Of the 3 up and running, 2 have blown the circuit board that controls the electronic brake. Both machines did this in less than a month after install. At the time, I had no idea what could be wrong with either machine, since no one had informed me about this problem. Calling tech support initially was a waste of time, until I got ahold of a guy who explained what was wrong. Getting the new circuit board for the first one took several weeks and in the meantime, I had an angry customer who kept calling and demanding to know when I was going to fix his wind turbine.

    When the second turbine did the same thing, I tried to get ahold of the same guy in tech support, but was told he was no longer with SWWP. The guy I spoke to insisted that I go out with the SWWP troubleshooting kit and verify that the board was actually blown. The trouble is, I have to rent a bucket truck to get to the turbine on top of the non-climbable 45 foot tower. I figure that's the easiest way to work on a Skystream, rather than bringing in a crane and taking the thing down. I also figure it would be easier for me to have the replacement board actually in hand in case that turns out to be the problem so I don't have to go to this site twice with a rented bucket truck. This home is an hour away and up the side of a mountain on a long dirt road with switchbacks. Anyway, the tech guy says that I have to follow company policy, and no, they won't send me an extra circuit board until I verify that it's actually needed. I then say that if they don't send me a god d*mn circuit board, I am going to bill them for every minute of my time, the rental of the equipment, etc. He reluctantly agrees to send the circuit board, which arrives 2 weeks later. I have the bucket truck scheduled for next Tuesday.

    Anyway, that's been my experience with SWWP to date. The 3rd Skystream, which was the first we installed, has been running great for about 8 months, working about as advertised. Happy customer, so far.

    We also sell and install for Proven, ARE, and WTIC Jacobs, although I haven't sold any Jacobs yet because of their inverter issues. Small wind manufacturers are all difficult to work with. Proven seems to have the same mentality as SWWP when it comes to tech support and being able to communicate with them. ARE is in Chapter 11. I'm honestly getting tired of having to fight battles with the companies themselves, then fight battles over zoning issues with local bureaucrats in state offices and county planning departments.

    Wind turbines have been around a good long time. You'd think all of the issues would be resolved already. It's getting difficult to keep the hesitation out of my voice every time the phone rings and an enthusiastic potential customer says: "I'm interested in buying a wind turbine."
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators Posts: 26,769 admin
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Gost,

    I am truly sorry for the problems you and your customer's have been having...

    Have you worked out the "real" power costs of wind vs solar PV for a typical install (hopefully, using real wind data gathered from your working sites with an installed--inline--kWhr meter)?

    It has been difficult to find out what a "typical" wind system generates. From this website (keep turning blog) -- he is seeing around 100-300 kWhrs per month (~2,480 kWhrs for 1 year so far near Lake Erie).

    Of course, your location may not have great sun -- For example Seattle WA (assuming a northern coastal region) and using the PV Watts program for a 1 kW solar array, Grid Tied, fix mount:
    [FONT=Fixedsys]Results
    
    Month
    Solar Radiation (kWh/m2/day)
    AC Energy (kWh)
    Energy Value ($)
    1      1.54          33        2.11   
    2      2.50          50        3.20   
    3      3.71          84        5.38   
    4      4.37          96        6.14   
    5      5.31          118       7.55   
    6      5.52          117       7.49   
    7      5.88          127       8.13   
    8      5.17          112       7.17   
    9      4.98          105       6.72   
    10     3.00          66        4.22   
    11     1.76          37        2.37   
    12     1.26          26        1.66   
    ========================================
    Year   3.76          970       62.08   [/FONT]
    

    (2,480kWhrs per year / 970 kWhrs per year) * 1kW of panels = 2.56 kWatts of solar panels

    At ~$7 per Watt installed (cheap side of retail installations costs--but solar panel costs are going down), that would cost ~$17,920 (or possibly even less) before tax credits and rebates.

    The PV Watts program seems to be pretty accurate for my location (near SF California) and tracks really closely (year over year) to my GT solar system. If my same array was 8 miles to the west (on the coastline with 4 days of fog and 2 days of sun much of the summer--I am sure that it would not do near as well).

    How does a solar array stand against your (verified) power output from the "typical" wind turbine install?

    Would solar PV systems work in your area? If you include service costs (say a complete rebuild of a wind turbine every X years, vs perhaps one GT inverter replacement every 10-15 years for a Solar PV system?)--how does it compare over 25 years?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • gostgost Registered Users Posts: 9
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Bill,

    I am in the Pacific NW, so solar isn't quite as practical as other sunnier locations. In a way, the lower solar index helps give wind a leg up for comparison. I guess the most important thing about solar is that it's much less site specific, aside from shading issues, than wind is. You can have a great site for wind, then go a mile down the road and have not enough. Terrain plays such a big role in all of this, and the best sites are near the water or up on a hill. Tower height makes a big difference too, and I'll no longer sell Skystreams on less than 60 foot monopoles, and would prefer 100 foot or more, now that we have a source for them.

    What I have learned about selling wind turbines, of any brand, is to underestimate what you think it might, or should produce. Sell the customer on the worst-case scenario instead of the manufacturers hype. Tell them how much maintenance is involved, about broken blades, about blown circuit boards, etc. Tell them how miserable their lives will be from living with a wind turbine. If someone still wants to do it, they must have the same genetic flaw that the rest of us wind whackers have. Misery loves company, so welcome aboard.

    Aside from that, our one happy Skystream customer is seeing similar output to the family at the web site you posted, about 200 kW-h per month, on average. In our area, a grid-tied fixed PV array set at latitude produces just about exactly 1000 kW-h per year for every 1000 nameplate watts installed. Makes it nice to do the math. The Skystream is running on about a 10-11 mph yearly average and cost the family about $18K installed price on a 45 foot monopole. To produce the same amount from PV would require a 2.4 kW system. Our installed price for that would run around $25K, since we can't do it for $7 per watt and actually pay our employees. Factor in the maintenance and broken bits and pieces with a wind turbine, and you probably come out ahead of the game with PV solar.

    This family eventually wants to add a PV array to their home as well. When trying to decide which to do first, they decided on the turbine, despite the dire warnings. Why did they choose the turbine anyway? PV modules are boring. They just sit there and are no fun at all to watch. You can actually see wind turbines making electricity, plus they look cool spinning up there against the sky. See what I mean about the genetic flaw?
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators Posts: 26,769 admin
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Gost,

    Usually I have been telling folks about $8-$10 per kWhr installed for GT system--but some folks have been telling me I am a bit high--but I am not the one installing the systems--so I differ to your real world pricing (obviously, depends on local pricing and conditions).

    How do you verify you have a good wind site--experience, direct monitoring, or a bit of both?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • gostgost Registered Users Posts: 9
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Question for Truth Squad:

    Tech support says that the electronic brake circuit board failure of the Skystream has been fixed by the latest software update, which I have trouble buying into. Didn't they use the same excuse with the earlier freezing glitch? Is the circuit board just poorly designed, or is the real problem water leaking around the o-ring, or what exactly? What is the real fix for this problem? I have 2 more Skystreams to install right now, and another unsold one sitting on the shop floor. I'd sure like to figure out how to avoid this circuit board failure ahead of time, if possible.

    Bill,

    Direct monitoring would be nice, but doing an anemometer study for a small wind turbine is just not cost effective, and not really practical either. Every manufacturer tells you to do an anemometer study at hub height for at least a year before installing a wind turbine. Calculate the cost of THAT into the expenses, and wind electricity gets even more expensive, not to mention the customer wants a wind turbine NOW, not next year. The manufacturers are just covering their behinds with this one

    Experience and data logging in my local area tells me that the base wind speed in the open farmlands is between 9 and 12 mph average. Local terrain can either increase that, or decrease it. The best sign of an increase is tree flagging, which can be subtle around here. If I don't see any at all, that's not a good sign and I rate that site as under 10 mph. I start looking at the vegetation as I'm driving to do a site visit. If I see a lot flagging, I rate that site as above 10 mph. 10 mph is the very least someone should have if they want to get something out of a wind turbine aside from having an expensive lawn ornament. I then use the 10 mph average for calculations even if I think the site is better than that. Because output is a cube function of wind speed, using an mph or two lower for your calcs lets you always give a conservative estimate to the customer. Better to have them pleasantly surprised a year later than pissed-off at you. It's just not a good idea to sell a wind turbine to anyone with much less than a 10 mph average.

    I also don't like selling any kind of RE system to anyone who believes they can make, or even save money with either PV or wind, at least not where I live. For some reason, wind turbines seem especially attractive to those folks who think that if they just bought one of them gadgets for a few thousand bucks, they could become wealthy from selling all the excess megawatts of electricity to the local power company. As if the power company couldn't just buy their own 10 kW Bergey.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators Posts: 26,769 admin
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Thank you Gost.

    We here have been telling folks that unless they see trees shaped by prevailing winds--they probably don't have enough wind for a successful wind turbine install.

    The wind power is a cube of the speed--very true and makes even a "small 2 mph mistake" in placement cause a huge hit in performance... Example:

    11mph^3/9mph^3 = 1.8x more power from the higher speed wind.

    Good luck (and good engineering) for your customers and your installs.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • NoodlesNoodles Solar Expert Posts: 30
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Thought I would throw in an update on my Skystream, which was installed in July 2007. I have tilted the tower down a total of three times since I've owned it:
    1. Replaced inverter, relay board and RF board (Sept 07 I think).
    2. Replaced inverter and new comm board. Found bad blades. Nov 2008
    3. Replaced blades. Dec 2008

    Also had issues with the old comm system which eventually quit working all together until I replaced with the Zigbee(which has been great).

    I installed an updated inverter with the new Zigbee comm system and installed new blades on 12/21/2008. The previous blades lasted about 16 months before they delaminated. From 3/1/08 to 12/21/08 the machine only produced about 1300 KWH(meter installed about 1 Mar). After the repair with new inverter and blades listed above, here are my outputs measured with a dedicated meter. Maximum output current readings increased dramatically with the new inverter, nearing 20A peak on each phase.

    Jan:326.2 KWH
    Feb:342.1 KWH
    Mar:520.6 KWH
    Apr:547.5 KWH

    My best day ever was 47 KWH in one 24 hr period.

    Yes, we have trees shaped by prevailing winds. Yes, we have holes in the yard where trees once stood. And yes I'm just passing the time until the next failure. To keep things rated G, I'll say SWWP customer service absolutely stinks. No, make that non-existant. The last repair only happened because I filed a BBB complaint.

    Question for Truth Squad: Just how are voicemail and e-mail messages dealt with at SWWP? They never answer either, nor do they actually answer the phone when someone calls. Do they actually think that someone who spent $7K to install a Skystream is just going to give up trying to obtain warranty repair?
  • Truth SquadTruth Squad Solar Expert Posts: 126 ✭✭
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    Noodles asked:
    "Question for Truth Squad: Just how are voicemail and e-mail messages dealt with at SWWP? They never answer either, nor do they actually answer the phone when someone calls. Do they actually think that someone who spent $7K to install a Skystream is just going to give up trying to obtain warranty repair?"

    Well, one tech support guy was among the 14 of us layed off back in March of this year. See, they had added a fourth tech support guy to handle the volume, but now layed off one. They are literally swamped. I've heard the calls for tech support coming in at the reception desk, one after the other. Hundreds and hundreds of emails come in. There's just too much work for the amount of people. That doesn't excuse poor customer service, but it's not the techies' faults. The tech support guys are desperately trying to do a good job with what they have on hand. So, it's not their fault. It's the fault of management who makes this such an obvious low priority. There are more people in the sales department than tech support, get my drift? In fact, there will soon be as many sales managment staff as tech support personnel. So, yeah, voicemails and emails might not get answered. Best thing to do is make sure you preface the email or voicemail with the serial number of the turbine. That will help get attention because you've already provided the first thing they ask for. Say, "I have Skystream serial number 000000 and I am Acme Wind Power and thus-and-so happened to it." Then give the phone number. That's Step One. Step Two, well, I've mentioned possible courses of action. You mentioned having had to take one such course of action. But try having serial number on-hand and see how that works for you.


    Noodles also mentioned:
    "The previous blades lasted about 16 months before they delaminated."

    Yes, I heard about this issue. Not good.


    Gost asked:
    "Tech support says that the electronic brake circuit board failure of the Skystream has been fixed by the latest software update, which I have trouble buying into.
    What is the real fix for this problem?"

    I couldn't say. I've seen several "fixes" come down the pipe. There have been several software updates, each of which was supposed to fix the problems and didn't. You know the old adage about the boy who cried wolf? Well, how can we believe SWWP when they say they've "fixed" the software after having said that so many times? As far as the circuit design, well, in my opinion the big problem is that they had to squeeze ten pounds of crap into a five pound sack to get the thing inside the turbine. There is limited room in there, as you know. Plus, you have heat and vibration issues. Plus possible water leakage. We knew putting the circuits inside the turbine was a bad idea back in the old Air 303 days well over a decade ago. That's one reason Southwest Windpower came out with the Air Industrial which had an unregulated circuit and a C40 charge controller and dump load and people are still asking for that turbine even now. My best advice to you would be hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. In my own opinion and based on what I've heard, they haven't fixed it. They're using the customers as beta test subjects. They wait and see what tech support says after bringing out a new software "fix". If anything goes wrong, then do what you did last time and insist on a new circuit before you do anything. Don't listen to their "It's against company policy" crap. If you were a VIP or a high-profile install (i.e. George HW Bush's Skystream), they wouldn't tell you poppycock like that. They'd fall all over themselves to get that circuit out next-day-air. So, you have to stick to your guns and tell them you're not opening that gennie up without replacement circuit in hand---period. Like you already did once. That's what you have to do.


    Hope this helps.
  • NoodlesNoodles Solar Expert Posts: 30
    Re: Truth About Skystream & SWWP

    I appreciate your reply. Yes, I learned early on to use my serial number in the e-mail. I think it became a part of my signature block.:D

    I agree with you about the techs. Once you finally get through and talk to a TECH person, they do a pretty good job of trying to help. But, you better get the answer/parts on that first phone call/e-mail 'cause you probably won't get a second response. This type of service turned me off. It wasn't really the problems with the unit. Tilting the tower down three times in 18 months wasn't too bad I suppose. My tower is a 42 ft guyed tower and I just use the winch on my trailer to raise/lower. No crane/bucket truck needed. But, the frustration waiting for a response(if any) from the company for parts/software/etc was simply ridiculous.

    Once again, thanks for the response. I hope your job situation improves soon!
    (and you find a much better environment than SWWP).

    Mike
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