Ducted Wind Turbines (DWT) is the Potsdam-based developer of small wind turbine technology designed for efficiency, economy, manufacturability, versatility, and ease of assembly and installation. It was born from Dr. Ken Visser’s two decades of turbine research and testing at Clarkson University.
“These were some of the parameters he saw were missing in other turbines,” said Joe Dickson, CEO of DWT. “He embarked on a project with his graduate students to design the world’s best small turbine.”
The Dream Team
Visser, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at Clarkson, built his first prototype in 2016 with a grant from Nexus-NY, a NYSERDA program. When it tested as highly efficient, he brought in Paul Pavone, a consultant who had worked for several energy start-ups. Together they formed DWT as an LLC.
Dickson entered the picture in 2018, as a NYSERDA Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). He started his career with General Electric in the late 1970s, and a decade later spun off his own company by licensing a method of bonding copper to metallic substrates to make high-reliability chip packages.
“We grew to millions in sales in two years and sold the company in year three,” he said. “I thought ‘Entrepreneurship is pretty easy!’ After that I struck out a couple of times and hit a single. It has been a very interesting career, but it has certainly not been easy.”
Dickson initially served as a mentor, helping DWT build a business model and prepare for fundraising. In 2020, DWT became a C corporation, and he was asked to remain as CEO.
“Ken is probably one of the top air-flow aeronautical engineers in the world,” Dickson said. “Paul is the consummate sales and marketing guy, and I bring the business strategy and CEO background.”
“This is a tough business”
Since 2018, DWT has gone from an alpha prototype—which still operates atop the technology building at Clarkson—to a beta prototype to full commercialization of its Gen 3 small wind turbine.
It has not been easy. While dealing with difficult technology, the company has had to fight a big perception problem.
In the early 2000s, state and federal governments offered incentives for small wind turbine use. Soon the market was flooded with turbines that did not work. This made it difficult for DWT to convince people—even the National Renewable Energy Lab (NRL), which in 2019 awarded it $200,000—that its technology was different.
“They gave us the grant, but they were very skeptical,” Dickson recalled. “We had a prototype and data, but they said, ‘This is a tough business.’ We worked with them for two years and now they recommend us. ‘You want to know about small wind turbines? Talk to DWT.’”
A few other grants, including a few from NYSERDA, would take DWT to the point of commercialization in 2022.
DWT turbines are designed for manufacturing and have only about 30 parts, including fasteners. The company currently outsources everything except some of the assembly and its proprietary braking system. Soon, however, it will be bringing metal fabrication in house in a new plant in either Potsdam or Syracuse.
“We’ll be buying equipment and hiring people,” Dickson said. “We’ll be looking for more state support for that.”
“We want to change the world”
DWT has a varied customer list, ranging from a Fortune 100 software company to “preppers” living off the grid. DWT turbines are in use on three State University campuses, with the most recent sale of three units to SUNY Canton. This month, a DWT turbine powered the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games.
“But our long-term view is that we cannot go on selling one-off turbines,” Dickson said. “We want bulk sales. We want to change the world.”
The company has its eyes on NGOs, EV charging stations, remote telecom towers, and small grids that would bring energy to people on islands or in remote villages or provide distributed power to add vital stability to larger grids.
“Without distributed energy we will never reach electrification of everything, which is where this entire planet is heading right now,” Dickson said.