Wind farms may be hitting the big time, but that hasn't deterred inventors and technologists from tinkering, or even reinventing, the turbine itself. In the past few months we've seen wind energy systems that use discs attached to hydraulics and even charged water droplets, but how about skyscrapers outfitted with rotating window panels? This is the idea behind the University of Wollongong's PowerWINDows concept, a modular wind turbine designed to have less of an impact on the surrounding environment.

A team led by Professor Farzad Safaei, director of the Information and Communication Technology Research Institute at UOW, has spent the past four years designing the PowerWINDows as a method for harvesting wind energy that's less intrusive to the surrounding area.

At a glance, the current design looks not much different from a standard window, except the grid pattern is made up of panels that twirl in the breeze. Rather than have one large set of blades turning perpendicular to the wind's direction, the PowerWINDows are made up of smaller blades that rotate slowly along the same path as the wind.

According to Safaei, this method produces less air turbulence, reducing the amount of stress on nearby structures and generating less noise. Aside from lowering maintenance and operational costs, this design could theoretically be installed almost anywhere without having as much of a negative effect on the area nearby.

Another advantage the PowerWINDows could have over conventional wind turbines is modular construction, which allows more panels to be added when extra energy is needed, rather than setting up a whole new turbine. This design also means panels can be installed more easily and even integrated into existing structures, like the sides or tops of tall buildings.

Now that a solid design has been drawn up, the next step is to build a working model to analyze how the PowerWINDows stack up to other methods of wind energy harvesting. UOW recently signed an initial two-year agreement with marine engineering group Birdon Pty Ltd to create a prototype that can be used for further testing. If all goes well, the company hopes to start production on a commercial version for use around the world.

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