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Power Flowers to domesticate wind turbines

By

March 3, 2011

Power Flowers could become a common sight in towns and cities

Power Flowers could become a common sight in towns and cities

Image Gallery (28 images)

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.

A 12 turbine Power Flowers installation

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.

Power Flowers turbines getting up close and personal with local home-owners

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?

Via Designboom.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
34 Comments

It is hard to say how that level of sound compares with other noises like traffic. They look nice enough though I would not like to see trees sacrificed for these things. Perhaps there are enough spots where trees are not practical due to roots damaging pavement and such. The lower efficiency could be a sensible tradeoff IF the overall economics are still sustainable without government subsidies.

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.

Cymon Curcumin
3rd March, 2011 @ 02:58 pm PST

I would accept one of those near my house. . . depending on how noisy they are. That, honestly, would be my only worry. I think they look cool. . . but if they're typically turbine noisy, then no-way.

socalboomer
3rd March, 2011 @ 03:00 pm PST

Wow. I'm not usually into this stuff, but these actually look pretty cool. Assuming they're not too noisy, you get energy plus art. I don't feel as bad spending too much money for inefficient energy if I'm also getting something cool looking.

kar
3rd March, 2011 @ 04:19 pm PST

I wouldn't mind one in my garden or attached to the side of the house. There are some treeless countries who could use these to break up their dull land masses and become self sufficient. Parts of Turkey, Scotland, the Middle East etc. Mass production could make these very affordable and combined with solar panels could be a huge boon in coming years....and hopefully they could be colourbonded to be green and brown etc

svengali49
3rd March, 2011 @ 04:58 pm PST

43dB is about the same as the sound of a bird call...

rangle
3rd March, 2011 @ 05:07 pm PST

I wouldn't mind these around. Perhaps a more practical approach at first is to combine them with street lights in parks and walking/bike paths. A few smaller ones to introduce the general public to them. Before making them as visually compelling as the above design, just put one of the vertical blades on the top of the lamp post and let it do it's job.

Facebook User
3rd March, 2011 @ 05:16 pm PST

There are lots of things wrong with this idea. Firstly, there is very little wind resource available in urban areas, especially close to the ground where these would be. I doubt these would ever generate the energy required to make them in such locations, the energy available is simply tiny. We did a study on this, check out the results at http://www.ata.org.au/projects-and-advocacy/domestic-wind-turbines/

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...

Mr T
3rd March, 2011 @ 05:25 pm PST

More evidence that alternative energy is *all* about appearance. Just a touchy-feely design treatment to a device totally unworkable for perfoming its claimed task. I'm a design nut myself, but with a boring, stale preference for things that actually work.

What would look better - and actually generate electricity - would be underground cables to a distant nuclear plant. But that's so un-hip.

Todd Dunning
3rd March, 2011 @ 05:59 pm PST

Exactly right Mr T, these things would slaughter birds. Perhaps if they came with perching branches too it might work?

Nhoj Pekowski Ŧ
3rd March, 2011 @ 08:08 pm PST

I too am a bit concerned about harming the birds, but if that were not an issue they look like they would fit perfectly in the superstore parking lots. They are generally wide open spaces (except for light posts) and often far enough away from residential areas that sound levels would not be an issue. They could dress up an otherwise ugly landscape and provide some utility too.

tmig
4th March, 2011 @ 06:04 am PST

Speaking as an architect with an engineering background and a friendship with Bill Allison who perfected the fans achieving 50% efficiency, I'd have to say that an awful lot of poppycock is going on.

These do appear to be beautiful but what is their efficiency? That is the ultimate thing in all engineering design.

Until some institution sets up a non confined air flow wind tunnel and tests all of these wild variants for efficiency we shall never know which way to go. We are lost in the desert of ignorance and wild notions and delusions.

Clearly the 3 bladed fan is NOT the great hope of humanity.

Flying blades versus resisting blades are the two main concepts and this fact should always be spoken.

Bill Dickens

Island Architect
4th March, 2011 @ 06:11 am PST

Cute concept but a signup for epic economic and ecological fail.

Wind turbines get bit for two reasons having to do with physics. The amount of power extracted is the square of the swept disk area of the rotors. The power available is a cube of the wind speed. To maximize the power one should go big. And for the amount of materials required (eg eco impact) is linear. Studies have shown that many of the small turbines as shown here do not pay back their economic and eco costs over the life of the product. So they are a eco deficit design.

Just because it appears renewable does not mean it is ecofriendly.

JohnMc
4th March, 2011 @ 07:06 am PST

This is a great advancement for towns and cities and I would put a few on our property......

Richie Suraci
4th March, 2011 @ 07:16 am PST

For added aesthetics they could paint the structure brown and the turbines green to make them even more tree like.

Facebook User
4th March, 2011 @ 07:43 am PST

I appreciate your newsletter. I really do. But why do you use only meters per second? Instead of MPH and KM per hour? Just by doing that translation and comparing to global and urban wind resources and you would have a better view of how to approach coverage of this important subject? Best wishes but read the other comments. These questions are asked after just reading for a few minutes. I apologise if this is your first aeticle.

froginapot
4th March, 2011 @ 08:10 am PST

Hmm. Just think of the possibilities. While they may induce a bit of accelerated "Natural Selection" into the local avian populations, the local house cats will prosper. (Remember, nothing is "free". Especially risk.) Also, parking and/or walking under one of these structures will provide target rich opportunities for, shall we say - Avian Revenge? All in all, I give this lame-brained "Green Solution" a hearty thumbs down. And a hearty "Har, har" to boot.

Myron J. Poltroonian
4th March, 2011 @ 09:43 am PST

hello. i would hang my laundry on them.

rollzone
4th March, 2011 @ 09:43 am PST

Forget the trees, just put Eddy turbines down the median of the expressway and recover some of that wasted energy from gasoline.

Facebook User
4th March, 2011 @ 10:17 am PST

I HEAR THEY SLOW WIND SPEEDS DOWN = TEMP RISE. HOW CAN THIS BE GOOD ?

Jay Finke
4th March, 2011 @ 10:33 am PST

Hey froninapot,

I think you have sit in that pot just a little too long if the only thing you got to complain about is that the wind is measured in KPH instead of MPH!! There are a whole gob of people out there besides you who like KPH and as a American, I am one of them. Just be glad the other half of that measurement is the same 1hr=1hr! The ratio between kilometer and mile is roughly 1.7 so 1.7K=1mile. Use your brain a little or here is a quick link to convert all measurements!

Will, the tink
4th March, 2011 @ 10:35 am PST

These might be the solution for cities with pigeon problems...

Jellystone
4th March, 2011 @ 10:46 am PST

Maybe not replacing trees, but outside of a city where electric lines are mounted on tall telephone poles, you could put one of them atop each pole. If they were cost effective, a county like Preble in Ohio, with its wide-open farm land that allows winds to easily blow across the landscape, an untold amount of power could be generated, and with no need to change the landscape.

caeman
4th March, 2011 @ 11:10 am PST

This appears to be a remarkable opportunity, IF the basic cost/benefit curve is correct. If that is present - or can be engineered to be plausible, some fascinating dynamics might come into play.

The ability of a neighborhood, housing development or community to be self-sufficient, to power home heating and cooling and illumination and to power an electric car or the compressor to fill an air-"powered" car is pretty nifty.

This design is meant to focus on the aesthetics and the perceived delicate sensibilities of US homeowners. For me, any turbine design and just about any level of noise is appealing, if it allowed me to decouple from a fossil-fuel supply chain that includes funded terrorists, ruthless dictators, commodity speculators, oil companies, and obscene and illegal wars.

The comments reflect many of the relevant issues, that must be addressed, but do not go far enough in recognizing the possibilities.

For example:

- "Cymon" - The integration with the existing power grid may be problematic, but could certainly be addressed within existing legislation and current "smart grid" concepts.

- "socalboomer" - My experience is that the rhythmic drone of somewhat distant highway and train traffic can be either psychologically "tuned out" or appealing, with some of the soothing effect of rain or ocean waves.

- "kar" - I would think that conversion efficiency is the primary issue and that the secondary issues of aesthetics can be dealt with by "paint and placement".

- "svengali49" - It seems that these might be adapted to anywhere but the most congested inner city areas, not just the "sticks" or desert. Indeed, with the neighborhood crowdsourcing I visualize, some density is necessary, as a service/serviced group of folks might be involved in the fabrication, installation and maintenance of the appropriate gizmos.

- "rangle" - Agreed, the noise could be nominal and likely to be tuned out by the brain.

- "Brandon Revels" - Great approach, to adapt existing superstructure to a higher and better use.

- "MrT" - Makes a number of points, the first of which (available wind energy) I am not qualified to confirm or dispute. Again, solid engineering and technical analysis is a critical starting point, but an expansive and creative approach might continue from there.

Maintenance - With the right design and fabrication, maintenance items could be handled by neighborhood "handymen/women". There are hunters who climb big ladders to a deer blind; they could handle their own, as well as several adjacent neighborhoods. Or, there are plenty of unemployed folks with the skills to handle such work for payment from the homeowners' association or "energy co-op" responsible for the maintenance of these gizmos.

I agree that the city government is not the "mover and shaker" behind any degree of adoption of this approach, there is too much "downside" and the economics may not support the necessary volume of bloat and corruption. Instead, the facilitators are within new or existing groups of like-minded folks who want to aggressively explore what works, and what does not.

A winning technical design could be licensed or available "open source", its fabrication as localized as possible, its maintenance and operation as simplified as possible. Of course, one design will work better in certain locations than others, the dispersed, "crowd-sourced" aspect will evolve the "best" designs and approaches for each neighborhood or community.

Safety - Again, I agree that stupid people abound. However, these gizmos would not be installed by a distant "gummint" department, but by friends and neighbors in the 'hood. The vandals would no more attack these windmills than their own homes and cars and it would be trivial to incorporate security measures into the necessary "smart grid" sub-gizmo devices.

Wildlife safety - I know that engineers have addressed this issue in the massive windmill farms that exist in Texas and California. Perhaps a sonic "warning" would work, perhaps color and placement can be used. Or, perhaps an attractive "perch" mechanism situated below the actual turbines could provide a safe target for the birds (and a source of "droppings" to fertilize the community vegetable gardens below)?

- "Todd Dunning" - Again, agreed that the design must "work". And, I am not an engineer, mechanical or electrical or whatever. However, it seems that very little "high" or expensive tech is involved with this or any small-scale turbines. We are not talking about the massive turbines one sees in the existing commercial wind "farms". We are talking about adapting simple materials and mass-production to a consumer application. Could blades be fabricated/stamped/extruded from wood/ steel/stranded fiberglass? If a "reman" 100-watt alternator for a '95 Chevy can be bought for $30, could an even more rugged, larger capacity alternator be designed for a million of these gizmos and sell for less than $500?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, but the possibilities are amazing if enough folks are inspired to find those answers.

Jay Honeycutt
4th March, 2011 @ 11:25 am PST

Eco-Sanctimony is about feeling warm and fuzzy, and nothing else. This designer is not interested in generating electricity first and foremost. He wants to get chicks.

We don't wear socks that look like trees. Our car tires are round, made of petroleum and neither shaped like leaves, nor colored green. Boring, I know.

With windmills requiring almost 1,000 times the footprint of a nuclear power plant for the same power, they need to look like the Sistine Chapel, not just an elegantly designed tree.

All the hippies falling over themselves in love with this concept should, by all means, use it exclusively to power their homes. And I'll even drive by now and then to sell you some ice and kerosene, pick up your laundry and drop off some charged Li-Po's so you can post on DailyKos how cool you are and what idiots everybody else is.

Todd Dunning
4th March, 2011 @ 12:23 pm PST

As far as the noise: With my sound pressure meter, I measure a normal conversation = to 60 dB @ 1 meter, so 42 dB is pretty quiet. Nonetheless sound pressure measurements such as the one in this article are useless because they don't provide the distance at which the sound was measured. Is it 42 dB @ 10 meters away or at 500 meters away?

Randy Meinert
5th March, 2011 @ 05:53 am PST

Each home should make it's own electricity. Each car should makes its own electricity. Each business should make its own electricity. When that entity needs more than they pay to add more ways to sustain themselves. This should be our goal.

Future Hope
5th March, 2011 @ 11:34 am PST

How silly!

Line loss from "the giants" down wind would still be less than the trivial amount these little bird killers could ever offer (I would think).

Put the big turbines everywhere possible and please make sure we develop robotic battery factories (or lots of other storage) while we are at it.

Actually, we need competing "oil like" companies to do solar and wind from mining to installations (repeat)...

ALL else is trivial. If you want a replacement for oil, we had better quit amusing over peanuts! Oh, and even maxed out RE can not compete with LFTR, the safer nuclear...

Facebook User
5th March, 2011 @ 06:53 pm PST

Looks very similar to my design of 2006:

http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Wind_20tree#1149442556

I think they might have stolen it.

Lorenzo
6th March, 2011 @ 03:24 am PST

If we can live with huge power poles and street lights in the city - then why not these? Obviously they are still in an experimental stage, and many of the concerns expressed in earlier comments have yet to be addressed - especially their effect on birds, but it is - in my opinion - a viable avenue to explore. As far as that is concerned, in some cities that have been "invaded" by grackles in the downtown and park areas - huge flocks of noisy, smelly birds that create large areas under any available perching covered with filth often rendering pocket parks unusable for humans - even bird lovers like myself would consider it not such a bad thing if a few were killed and the rest (being intelligent creatures) decide to stay out of the area.

Summer Fey Foovay
6th March, 2011 @ 09:35 am PST

@Mr T.

Thanks, you saved me the bother.

This is a typical case of architects with no engineering nous.

splatman
7th March, 2011 @ 03:17 am PST

I suspect they would be fouled with old sneakers in a week!

Burnerjack
7th March, 2011 @ 05:15 am PST

I support anything that breaks the monopoly of state services. For example, decentralized (distributed) energy production developed by private funding for private use would make us more independent. It would cost a whole lot less also.

voluntaryist
7th March, 2011 @ 02:25 pm PST

My only question is if they will have the same spacing issues that are arising with traditional turbines. other then that i'd love to have one in my back yard. noise or not i dont care as long as its reducing my carbon footprint. "Go Green Or Die"(to barrow from my lecture today at college)

Peter David Phoomahal Jr
21st April, 2011 @ 01:35 pm PDT

The question really is the tragic wildlife loss that accompanies this great alternative power source. Any turbines should be "enclosed" in a design that incorporates a 1/4" mesh all around any blades to prevent birds and bats from being sucked in for the "raptor cuisinart" effect we all know of in California. These "power-flower" trees would be no more aesthetically displeasing than the cell towers made to resemble large trees - a gross connivance that only brings birds to their deaths.

Better still - use BLADELESS TURBINES as the small "flowers" - these are virtually silent, superefficient and don't kill our flying birds and bats.

We need to start DEMANDING that all offshore and ONSHORE wind farms and turbines use bladeless or a simple enclosed technology before we lose many more MILLIONS of birds and bats.

ny4whales
8th April, 2013 @ 07:48 am PDT
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