Building Integrated Wind

By Paul Gipe

Related to the interest in rooftop mounting of small wind turbines is that of integrating wind turbines into the building structure itself. This is a favorite sport of architects trying to make a name for themselves by embedding a wind turbine into their flashy architectural wonder. It may never be built-and nearly always isn’t-but it still makes a big splash in the news media and allows the architects to paint themselves green-and jack up their fees.

Will they work? Like simpler rooftop installations the answer is technically yes, they can be made to work. Will they work for a long time, produce the amount of electricity touted at the cost quoted? It’s doubtful. Worse, they’re likely to drive the occupants, then the owners, and finally the architects themselves mad with the noise and vibrations inherent in a big spinning machine coupled to the building’s structure.

Yes, there might be some speed-up effect from the building itself-when the wind is from the right direction. But when it’s not, what then? Turn the building to face the wind? Not likely.

Yes, we can dampen the vibrations from rooftop machines like heating and air-conditioning systems. We do it all the time. But to deliver anything more than a token amount of electricity, the wind turbine has to be relatively large relative to the size of the building and therein lies the problem. If it’s large, then the loads and hence the amplitude of the vibrations it produces are large too.

If architects want to green their buildings, they should stick with cutting the embedded energy (the energy used in building materials like steel and concrete), and the energy used for heating, cooling, and lighting. If that’s not enough and they want to win more green points, they can always put solar panels on the rooftop. And in countries like Germany and France where there are incentives for renewable energy, architects can profitably integrate solar panels into the building’s façade.

Building integrated wind? No thanks. Building integrated solar? Yes please.