Power Flowers to domesticate wind turbines
Arguments still rage on, but it's generally accepted that we need to roll out more sustainable power solutions and break away from our reliance on fuels that are going to disappear one day. As advances in solar, wave and wind technologies gather pace, Dutch design house NL Architects has been looking at ways to bring wind turbines closer to where the power they produce is needed, instead of being located on remote hillsides. Inspired by a vertical-axis turbine called Eddy, the team thinks the answer may lie in tree-like creations named Power Flowers.
While most of us will offer strong vocal backing for the construction of wind farms, that can soon change if someone suggests building one nearby. As a result, the tri-blade towers get exiled to the middle of nowhere – or even further away. Instead of having a few high performance giants scattered throughout the land, NL Architects proposes a structure that would bring a few less efficient turbines together and place them closer to the users of the power they generate.
Embarking on the project, the designers asked themselves if it was possible to turn windmills into objects of desire. Bringing a few turbines together on a tree-like structure seemed the way to go, offering not-too-unpleasant aesthetics and power generation in one package. Using the familiar three-bladed turbine for such a creation would lead to similar issues as those currently faced by wind farm builders, so the team opted for the less efficient but not so unwieldy vertical-axis turbine instead.
The NL Architects design team has based its creation on an existing turbine created by Urban Green Energy called Eddy. The makers say that Eddy can be assembled in less than an hour, is safe to use in winds up to 120 mph (193 kph) and will last for at least 20 years. The Power Flowers structure would feature a hollow steel column with branches at the top. These branches would be home to either three or 12 Eddy-like turbines and could be deployed closer to, or even within, urban environments such as parks, streets or roadways.
Although vertical-axis turbines are considered less efficient than their tri-bladed bigger brothers, the Power Flowers design would allow for more of them to be packed into locations otherwise unavailable.
Using figures provided by Eddy's manufacturer, the team reckons that a three-turbine Power Flowers structure would generate over 13,000 kWh of power every year at an average wind speed of 5 meters per second and generate as little as 42.8db of noise at 12 meters per second. Each 12-turbine structure's annual power output for the same average wind speed is calculated at 55,000 kWh.
There are of course unresolved practical and engineering issues to overcome, which would make it very interesting to see if such a structure could actually jump from design software into the real world ... after which, we'd be watching closely for what sort of statistics would actually be produced and how such a thing would be received by the public at large.
Putting all that aside for a moment, would you object to one of these creations appearing outside your bedroom window or in the middle of your local park?
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There is also the issue with wind and solar that there is a limit to the amount you can use before fluctuations in supply begin to cause problems for utilities which need to adjust to differences between supply and demand. If you have some sort of distributed power using application that does not need to run constantly or on schedule, this problem would not be as big a limitation.
Secondly, imagine the levels of maintenance required for such vast numbers of turbines. Each one has a bearing at each end, so that\'s over a dozen bearings per tree. The maintenance would be a full time job for a work crew (or several) and would cost councils considerable money. This is not something any council is going to want to deal with, they want systems that are install and forget. If you want an example of this, think how long it takes your local council to replace the blown bulbs in streetlights.
Thirdly there\'s the safety aspect. These things would be a public liability nightmare. You can imagine all the dickheads throwing things at the turbines trying to break them, or trying to climb the poles for a dare or whatever. The world is full of stupid people, never forget that.
Lastly, there\'s the wildlife safety aspect. These types of turbines spin fast and the rotors are all but invisible. Birds are used to nesting in tree like structures, indeed, it\'s the one place they know they are relatively safe. Can you imagine the casualty rate of birds flying into these things?
Honestly, these are a classic example of yet another designer getting all wrapped up in the idea and not putting any thought into the practical and safety aspects of the design. Something not uncommon with most designers, who are often very \'arty\' people with little or no common sense...
What would look better - and actually generate electricity - would be underground cables to a distant nuclear plant. But that\'s so un-hip.