Energy

"Wind turbine wall" turns power generation into an aesthetic feature

"Wind turbine wall" turns powe...
New York designer Joe Doucet wants home power generation to become an architectural feature
New York designer Joe Doucet wants home power generation to become an architectural feature
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New York designer Joe Doucet wants home power generation to become an architectural feature
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New York designer Joe Doucet wants home power generation to become an architectural feature
These twisting designs are certainly fascinating to look at
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These twisting designs are certainly fascinating to look at
A single wall, says Doucet, could output a peak of 10 kilowatts
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A single wall, says Doucet, could output a peak of 10 kilowatts
A hypnotic kinetic sculpture to add to your architecture
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A hypnotic kinetic sculpture to add to your architecture
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NYC-based designer Joe Doucet doesn't see why renewable energy generation shouldn't actively make a home more beautiful, so he's putting together a series of "kinetic walls" using rotary wind turbines to achieve some hypnotic visual effects.

Each wall would feature some 25 vertical turbines, each connected to a 400-watt generator for a total peak power output of 10 kW. Like a rooftop solar setup, these could either be connected to the grid, or run through a battery system for storage. Doucet says they'll be "almost silent," producing "no more noise than a gentle whirling," and safe for use around children, since there are no pinch-points in the rotation and even a little one could easily stop the lightweight blades from turning.

Capable of catching the wind from any direction but the vertical, they could run as a standalone system or be paired with a solar array to generate power at overlapping times. Doucet says he wants to keep these walls "very affordable," and is "interviewing potential partners to bring this thing to make." Some typos have a strangely musical quality to them, and that's one of 'em.

A hypnotic kinetic sculpture to add to your architecture
A hypnotic kinetic sculpture to add to your architecture

They're undeniably striking to look at, but before anyone gets too excited, let's examine how they're likely to perform if they ever break free from Joe Doucet's CAD software and try their luck in the real world.

Ten kilowatts sounds pretty good; a useful amount of power, considering that the average US home uses around 30 kWh of energy daily. Ten kW, delivered all day and night, would contribute a very handy 240 kWh daily; you could power half your street.

But here's the problem: wind doesn't work that way. The average capacity factor for land-based wind turbines in the US is around 35 percent, so if these kinetic walls performed at a similar capacity factor to the whopping big three-blade horizontal-axis industrial wind turbines dotted along windy American coastlines, you could expect more like 84 kWh a day.

But they won't, because these vertical-axis turbines perform a lot less efficiently. Those boring-looking three-bladers always have all their blades in the wind catching a ride, while vertical-axis turbines by their very design can only have one surface catching the wind at a time. And they lose more power as the wind blows on the back of the blade coming back around.

These twisting designs are certainly fascinating to look at
These twisting designs are certainly fascinating to look at

They're also designed to be mounted at ground level around houses, rather than high up in the air near strong coastal winds. So the breezy pickings will be slim in most locations, and that's worse news than it sounds, since wind power is proportional to the cube of wind speed. And heck, while we're at it, they're designed to look cool, which means there's undoubtedly a less funky looking solution that would work better.

Basically, Doucet's wind turbine walls look pretty neat, but we'd be surprised if they made a useful amount of power or sold cheaply enough to pay for themselves quicker than a solar array. They're probably best viewed as a kinetic sculpture, with any energy output being a bonus. Indeed they're most likely the kind of "dodgy wind" design Mike Barnard warned us about so eloquently back in 2013. But as always with these kinds of things, we'd be delighted to be proven wrong.

Check out a video below.

WIND TURBINE WALL by JOE DOUCET

Source: Joe Doucet x Partners

Ed's note: this article has been updated to correct a math error. It originally stated that 10 kW running for 24 hours would produce 24 kWh. Thanks to our readers in the comment section for catching it!

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16 comments
16 comments
Peter Flynn
10kW times 24 hours at 100% capacity factor is 24kWhr?
Not sure I agree with your maths.
However your overall conclusion is undoubtably correct. Vertical turbines, down low,near houses are never going to be remotely worth the space and cost from a power output POV.
Daishi
The 2013 "Dodgy wind" article is New Atlas epicness that I still link to people when I see stuff like this Just making stuff move is easy with low wind speed but to generate real power you need a lot of torque and that doesn't happen with small blades at ground wind speeds. I've read some studies of microturbines more efficient than this and the conclusion was that the electricity generated is hardly enough to even offset maintenance costs of running them even if they were $0 up front. I think they could be viewed as "kinetic sculpture" or art and maybe power some outdoor lights but all of them combined would make less real world power than one solar panel.
Malatrope
No pinch points!? Every one of those whirling buckets skims right by the axles of the ones next to it. If you want to be sued, just let the neighbor's three year old come anywhere near that wall!
paul314
There's nothing wrong with decorative wind if that's how it's understood. With the right controller, an installation like this could be cool to watch because it could extract varying amounts of energy from the wind stream for controllable RPM. Add contrasting colors for a hypnotic display.
BlueOak
“ Not sure I agree with your maths. ”

@Peter Flynn, if you’re going to argue with @Loz’s math, you owe it to us to show how it is incorrect, no?
vince
Looks like might be dangerous to wandering kids hands.
jeronimo
The neighbours would complain of the visual annoyance.
William Volk
Yes, per square-meter this won't be as efficient as a traditional wind turbine. However the important metric is $$$/kw (the cost). I could see this as an affordable and attractive alternative, particularly if it is quiet.
schmoe90
@BlueOak I agree with @Peter Flynn - if something's generating 10kW, that's 10kWh per hour, so in 24 hours it'll generate 240kWh.

Though there's no way this thing'd ever do anything close to that in a day, especially at ground level.
Paul Villella
@ BlueOak, @ Peter Flynn did show you the math! 10x24 doesn't equal 24. He chose to allow the obvious to stand on its own and allow the author to correct it rather than to add acrimony. Some time a gentle hand guides best.
So he has pointed to the obvious flaw and the reader is only left to figure out what 10x24 is. (For BlueOak and only BlueOak the answer is 240, a number that, by the way, is so far out of any reasonable ballpark that it causes cognitive dissonance which may have led to the order of magnitude mistake)
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