Wind farms are typically located in remote, sparsely populated locations. The big turbines work best when they have good access to undisturbed (and therefore faster moving) wind. So rural and off-shore locations have been the best choices. But, while they're good for generating electricity, those aren't the places where most of the power is needed.
In the middle of Albany NY, on top of the 41-story Corning Tower, the city's tallest building, a small test wind turbine has been erected to study the available wind and help determine the feasibility of having larger building-mounted turbines for electricity production. The test turbine has only a 7-foot diameter and can produce just 1.5 kilowatts of electricity when spinning at full capacity. That is less than one-tenth of one percent of the power that the building uses, but it's just for the test.
Urban settings are generally considered less desirable for wind power generation, and the swirling winds found in a city are difficult to harness efficiently (although vertical-axis turbines are better suited for winds that rapidly change direction). Wind power design guidelines typically indicate that having a higher tower means the turbine is able to reach stronger winds, which means more power generated. The tallest buildings in a city may offer access to high, unblocked (and not swirling) winds that are fairly powerful and productive.
We've seen some concepts for both small, building mounted turbines and other schemes for urban wind as well as examples of actual buildings with attached large turbines. There are several problems associated with building mounted turbines, ranging from noise and vibration from the turbine causing discomfort for the building inhabitants to structural loading issues associated with the added equipment. These are problems that can be solved, though. If tall buildings do offer good wind access, then more urban towers may start sporting propellers on top.
written by The Food Monster, February 16, 2009
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