Tipping point coming in photovoltaics?) I felt kind of compelled to see whether the same might be happening in wind power generation. As these things are prone to happen, there was a ready-made post in archdaily describing a project by a team from Australia’s University of Wollongong and marine engineering firm Birdon, to develop PowerWINDows – a new type of wind-to-energy conversion technology that they claim might be particularly suitable for use on urban skyscrapers. Author Nicky Rackard leads off with:
"It seems like the natural thing to do, exploiting the height and shape of energy-consuming high-rises by installing wind-turbines to off-set power needs. However, past experience has shown that it’s not all that easy. Aside from generating power, turbines also generate noise, vibration and turbulence, which means they are ideally located in the countryside, or off-shore, miles away from civilization."The point is well illustrated by London’s Strata Tower. For the couple of years during design and construction, its developers claimed that the three structurally integrated axial wind turbines would provide up to 8% of the building's energy. Since completion in 2010, a different story dominates the blogosphere; the turbines spend most of their time lying idle.
The University of Woolongong initiative tries a different tack. The system is described as "an array of small panels arranged in a grid. Each panel is a miniature turbine in itself, which rotates with the direction of the wind, unlike traditional turbines which run perpendicular to it. By changing the direction of rotation, the wind the panels generate less noise and whip up less turbulence, they also place less stress on the supporting structure."
To date there has been a considerable body of literature which suggests that the wind regime of urban environments is too turbulent, and otherwise variable, to be actually efficient for building integrated wind power. In spite of the wonderfully evocative rendering of a gossamer-like array mounted between the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (look carefully at the image above), I am not holding my breath that this is the enabling breakthrough.
But I have also learned over the last few years that it is as dangerous to say something can't be done, as to prematurely claim success.
- Read the Inhabitat article here: PowerWINDows: A Proposal for Skyscraper-Compatible Wind Turbines.
- The UoW press release on which all the blog posts are based is here, but don't waste your time. It is painfully short on technical detail, and is actually a self-congratulatory piece on their research partnerships.
- For a layman's summary of why urban wind is not doing well, read BuildingGreen.com The Folly of Building-Integrated Wind
- For a longer description of what was hoped for for Strata SE1, try here. And for why it won the Carbuncle Cup as the popularly voted ugliest building of the year, read Strata tower wins 2010 Carbuncle Cup.
Finally, a gratuitous comment.
Nicky Rackard is remarkably prolific on Inhabitat, and I feel churlish to criticize. But the Razor (as the Strata SE1 tower is known by Londoners) was by no means the first building to have conventional wind turbines integrated into its form. That honour might belong to the Bahrain World Trade Center, with three wind turbines, which are located on three stacked bridges between the building's two towers. At 29m diameter, they are not just much bigger than the three 9m diameter wind turbines on the Strata SE1, but were completed in the year that Strata started construction.