Did you know that the first recorded use of a windwheel was in the first century by the Greeks? Widespread use of windmills, however, didn’t occur until the 13th century in Europe when they were used primarily for milling grain and pumping water. In the 1890s windmills were adapted to generate power, yet the idea didn’t really take off until after the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The recent demand for clean and renewable sources of energy has taken the popularity of wind turbines to even greater heights–wind farms seem to be sprouting up everywhere. It was only a matter of time until someone decided it was time to develop a miniaturized version for RV use.
Fortunately, that time is now. The folks at Free Spirit Energy now offer the Windwalker 250, a wind turbine made specifically for RV’s. Total cost for the Windwalker 250 is only $395, far less than the kits being offered for marine use by other companies. I had the privilege of meeting co-owners Jack and Crystal Wright at the 2013 Overland Expo. They gave me a full demonstration of their Windwalker, how it was shipped, assembled, mounted, and stored. Over the weekend, I watched their Windwalker in action as it effortlessly spun in the wind generating power for their truck camper. I was intrigued. I love new gadgets, especially those that allow me to extend my time off-the-grid and this one looked pretty cool. I knew it was only a matter of time until I got one for my truck camper.
That time finally occurred in February when I received my Windwalker 250 in the mail. The package came in a Priority Mail shipping box with all components carefully wrapped in bubble wrap. Each kit comes with a motor and arbor, a tail boom with tail fin assembly, 8 PVC propeller blades, a metal hub, a package of nuts, bolts, and washers, and a quick-disconnect 14 gauge wire pigtail. A steel mast is also required, but must be provided by you (the directions say this is done to save on shipping). The instructions recommend that you purchase a Schedule 40, 1 inch diameter galvanized steel pipe which can be found at any hardware store. They recommend a 30 inch or 36 inch length pipe, but since my rear ladder doesn’t extend past the roof line, I needed one that was 60 inches long to get sufficient height (a minimum of 18 inches above the roof line is recommended). To assemble the kit you’ll need just a single tool, a 7/16 inch wrench.
To mount the Windwalker 250 your RV will need to be equipped with either a rear ladder or a roof rack. When you place your order, Free Spirit Energy will ask you which mounting system you prefer (the roof rack mounting kit costs about $25 more than the ladder mounting kit). Truth be told, there are pros and cons associated with each mounting system. The ladder mount is closer and easier to work with, but it also partially blocks access to the roof. The opposite is true for the roof rack mount. For my particular installation, I ordered the ladder bracket mounting system. The ladder bracket mounting kit includes 2 male mast clamps, 2 female ladder rail clamps, and a small bag of bushings, nuts, bolts, and washers. To install the ladder bracket you’ll need just a 9/16 inch wrench.
The assembly instructions were well written and easy to follow. Still, I recommend reading the instructions entirely before starting assembly as you’ll likely encounter a few items that can trip you up if you don’t. First, there are two sets of PVC blades, four blades are slightly thicker than the others. These two sets of blades are labeled odd and even and are installed that way on the hub. Unfortunately, the packaging for my two sets of blades weren’t clearly marked. As a result, I mixed them up prior to assembly and didn’t realize my mistake until I came to that step in the instructions. A quick call with Jack helped clear up this issue and I was able to complete the assembly. The time it took to assemble everything was about 1-1/2 hours.
Fully assembled, the Windwalker 250 isn’t that large, but large enough to do the job. The unit is 24 inches long, weighs just 6 pounds (another 10 pounds with the stainless steel mast) and sports a blade diameter of only 24 inches. The total height above the ground will be determined by the combined height of your RV and mast, of course, but is typically around 14 feet. In my case I opted to go a little higher with a total height of 16 feet. Some wind power experts believe that this still isn’t high enough and that at least 30 feet is needed to get above the turbulent layer of air found near the surface of the earth. This is certainly true if you’re camping in a valley or some other depression, but not if you’re camping in an area already elevated like atop a mesa, plateau, or ridge. RV’ers should keep this in mind before you set up camp and deploy your Windwalker.
Overall, the Windwalker 250 is an attractive, professional looking unit. The only complaint I have physically is with the wiring. The gauge of the wire is heavy enough, but the wires came spliced in two places, then the soldered splices were covered with insulation tape. It’s quite functional this way, but the insulation tape doesn’t present a very professional appearance. The truth is you can’t see the splices with the turbine mounted on the mast, but I know they’re there and they bother me. Am I being too anal? Perhaps, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. A better approach would have been to have complete, non-spliced wiring from the turbine itself all the way to the two-wire interface plug. Again, not a big deal, but it’s something Free Spirit Energy should take a look at. [Editors Note: As of December 2016, this issue has been resolved with shrink tubing which provides a more professional look].
What is the typical lifespan of the Windwalker 250? That is a difficult question to answer. It depends on how much it’s used and abused (i.e. dropped), and how often it’s left exposed to the elements. Jack told me that he leaves his turbine hooked up to his camper at all times when he’s home (Jack lives in Las Vegas, by the way). He’s done this now for two years during the harsh, triple-digit summers and fully expects the wind turbine to work fine for another five years. For someone, like myself, who uses the Windwalker intermittently, one could easily expect to double or triple that amount of time. The warranty for the Windwalker 250 is 90 days from date of purchase.
How it Works
According to Free Spirit Energy’s website, the Windwalker 250 is rated at 255 watts at 30 knots with a start-up speed of only 8 knots. At 30 knot wind speeds the Windwalker also generates an impressive 8.5 amps at 30 volts. When you compare these numbers to what a similar size solar power system produces, the Windwalker 250 compares favorably. For instance, the 240 watt solar power system in my truck camper peaks out at 13.6 amps, but with seasons and sun angles being what they are, I’m limited to no more than four to five hours a day at that rating and that’s during the summer. On the other hand, the Windwalker is able to generate a charging current 24/7. As long as you have wind, the Windwalker 250 will be able to generate power. What’s not to like about that?
Unlike the solar power system in your RV, the Windwalker 250 doesn’t require a charge controller and connects directly to your batteries. The reason for this is because the Windwalker doesn’t generate enough amperage on a consistent basis to overcharge your batteries. Free Spirit Energy calls the Windwalker 250 a “trickle charger,” a device that provides a minimal amount of current (usually an amp or less) to keep a battery topped off without need of a regulator or controller. I agree at low wind speeds, but at high wind speeds the Windwalker provides much more current than your typical, run of the mill trickle charger. For any overcharging and damage to occur to your batteries, however, you would need sustained high wind speeds over a period of several days. That probably won’t happen, but still should be something to keep an eye on. Oh, and for those who were wondering, yes, the Windwalker has a blocking diode to prevent the battery from discharging while the turbine is still.
Like any company worth its salt, Free Spirit Energy has made some refinements and improvements to the Windwalker. One reoccurring issue they had was with their plastic arbor, the part of the motor to which the blade hub attaches. The plastic arbors would often crack during use or in storage resulting in non-functioning units and frustrated owners. Fortunately, the company listened and is now producing a heavy gauge, aluminum arbor which will not break during use. I received mine just before field testing and so far it has performed flawlessly. It only takes a couple minutes to swap it out. I’m told that all shipments of the Windwalker 250 now have this new metal arbor and that those who previously ordered a Windwalker will receive the new metal arbor as well. This is excellent news and a great move by a small company committed to customer service and satisfaction.
One of the common complaints with portable wind turbines is the excessive time it takes to put up and take down. Not so with the Windwalker. With the rear ladder just inches away from the main door of my truck camper, it was a breeze (sorry for the pun) to set up and take down. Indeed, it took no more than a minute either way. Dismantling the Windwalker for storage is easy, too, and takes about 30 seconds (all you need to do is remove a single screw to remove the blade hub from the turbine). Storing the Windwalker, however, was another story. Finding storage room in a big motorhome or fifth wheel shouldn’t be much of an issue, but for truck camper owners with limited space this can be problematic. Jack says he places the unit on his bed when he’s on the road, but my wife would have none of that. My solution was to store the Windwalker 250 in three pieces (motor, blade hub, and mast) under the rear seat in my pickup truck.
In field tests conducted over a two-week period, the Windwalker 250 performed exceptionally well. I didn’t have a way to measure wind speed, but on one particularly windy day my multimeter measured charging currents anywhere between 9.1 and 3.2 amps. I was pretty impressed with how well the Windwalker performed in keeping my batteries topped off during testing. What I wasn’t happy with was the noise the Windwalker generated. Free Spirit Energy claims that the motors that ship are very tight and that it takes time for them to loosen up. The break-in period typically takes a week of constant use. Once that break-in period is over, the motor will start up with less wind, will run quieter, and will run more efficiently. During my two weeks of testing and use, I found this to be true. After one week, the noise generated by the Windwalker 250 was more tolerable though it never did go away entirely.
Invariably, the big kids on the renewable energy block will always be compared to each other. Is wind power better than solar power for RV’s? The answer really depends on where you camp. If you camp in sun-drenched areas like Florida and Arizona, then solar is, without a doubt, the better option. However, if you camp in northern latitudes, in the Pacific Northwest, and in windy areas like those found near coastlines and atop plateaus, then I would give wind power the clear nod over solar. Of course, you don’t have to choose one over the other. You can be like me and utilize both. My power generating strategy employs solar during the day and wind power during the night and on cloudy, windy days. I like having options and the Windwalker 250 gives me another weapon in the battery charging arsenal and that’s always a good thing.
So would I recommend the Windwalker 250 wind turbine to RV’ers who love to boondock? Absolutely! I’m a big fan (sorry, I can’t help myself with the puns) of wind power. I found the Windwalker to be extremely effective in keeping my batteries charged. How effective it will do this for you depends on the amount of wind in your area, but even with the lowly average of 1 amp an hour over a 24 hour period, you’ll still get 24 amp hours of charging and that’s an amount you can’t easily blow off (that’s my last pun, I promise). So if you’re thinking about buying a wind turbine for your RV, you should do it. The good folks at Free Spirit Energy make the transition to wind power fun and painless, and with the Windwalker 250 they do it without it being a pain to your wallet.
Click here to view my video of the Windwalker 250 in action.
Disclaimer: I’m an independent reviewer. I do NOT get paid to review products on this website. I will only recommend products which I use and believe in and which I think will benefit my audience. The views expressed are my personal views and are written without any influence, whatsoever. That said, I reserve the right to engage in paid affiliate marketing and promotion with brands, companies and individuals whose products I review.