Wind off the old block

Wind off the old block

LONDON-Anyone who has walked amid urban canyons of tall buildings on a blustery day knows just how much city blocks spilling over with offices can affect the wind. But imagine if those buildings could capture that wind power and transform it into energy That’s exactly what a group of academic and private-sector engineers in Britain set out to do. They’ve come up with a conceptual prototype to incorporate wind turbines into buildings. Project WEB, or Wind Energy for the Build Environment, combined the talents of engineers from London’s Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine, Gernny’s University of Stuttgart, BDSP Partnership (a London engineering firm), and Mecal Applied Mechanics (a structural and mechanical engineering company, also based in London).

With funding from the European Union, the project’s goal was to design a building that could produce at least 20 percent of the energy it required. As BDSP says, “These buildings must be energy efficient; otherwise the turbines risk becoming a purely aesthetic feature.” The finished product is an aerodynamic, twin-tower design that bookends the huge turbines. The design is rounded to channel the wind into the turbines’ blades. The projects goal was to develop wind enhancement and integration techniques that make the most out of available wind. A small-scale prototype was field tested and passed with flying colors, though Neil Campbell, a BDSP engineer, says that a real building would require solving a few detailed design problems.

Most wind energy comes from wind farms, a collection of land-based turbines. Project WEB hopes that building-based turbines sidestep the problem of gaining planning approval that wind farms often face. Alison Hill, spokesperson for the British Wind Energy Association, applauds the idea of placing turbines into urban towers, but says the notion that wind farms face NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) opposition is largely a myth, at least in Britain, Europe’s windiest country. About 74 percent of Britons approve of wind power, and that approval rating shoots up to 79 percent among people who live close to wind farms. Perhaps the British have come to accept turbines because wind power has proven cost-efficient in their country. Compared with traditional fuels, only gas is marginally cheaper than wind there. In the last decade turbines have become bigger, and technology has made them better at transforming wind into energy. Says Hill: “Wind will be a significant power producer in the future no matter what country you’re in. The technology is well established.” And it makes for pretty neat architecture, too.

Copyright American Society for Engineering Education Feb 2002

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