By Zak Stone
It may be full of potential, but wind power is still a young industry with many design challenges that prevent it from scaling up. From an environmental perspective, how can designers and entrepreneurs lower the technology's impact on local ecosystems? Bird populations in particular, can be harmed by the swiftly spinning turbines. And how can wind power be brought to a wider variety of landscapes, including urban ones, as opposed to the rural, mountainous, or desert areas where you typically find fields of hulking turbines?
A new manufacturer thinks its figured out the answers to these two questions with a new turbine design called the Windstrument. They're hailing the product as "a truly affordable wind energy system," that's "quiet and powerful, bird safe, and scalable."
This last attribute is particularly compelling. The technology is compact and unobtrusive enough to be installed in an urban area for smaller-scale use. For homes or businesses who don't require much power, a pole with a single, four-foot turbine would suffice, and a rooftop mounting option is available. But for the power needs of a whole neighborhood or an industrial complex, for example, many turbines can be added to a single pole, a configuration the company calls a "Windorchard."
The shape of the turbine's blades are called conical helicoids, inspired by the design of racing sails and capable of sustaining their functionality even in fierce winds. And unlike other turbines, the Windstrument's design disperses the air in such a way that birds don't get sucked in. In nearly two years of trials in a wetland heavily populated by birds, not a single one was harmed.
So far it seems the biggest problem for the company is scaling up their own production. Right now, they're just able to produce "several thousand turbines a month. Our goal is to quadruple that, at a minimum, over the next year," according to their website. Unified Energies International, the Michigan-based firm behind the Windstrument, just announced this summer that they had patented the design and were working with a plastics company to bring the product to market.
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.