Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/2/2009 (4345 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If Alex Stuart's dreams came true, every highrise in downtown Winnipeg would be topped with a wind turbine, silently capturing energy to power the offices below.
For now, he's glad to have one turbine up at the University of Manitoba, where research will show whether his vision of a sky-high urban wind farm in Winnipeg will ever come to fruition.
"That's unused rooftop real estate," said Stuart, president of Global Wind Group.
The start-up company is working with the University of Manitoba's Alternative Village to test one of the vertical axis turbines they hope to eventually distribute in Winnipeg. Stuart believes the city's skyscrapers could one day substitute for the massive bases that traditionally support wind turbines such as the ones in St. Leon, southwest of Winnipeg
"We already have huge towers -- we just call them office towers," he said.
Vertical axis turbines don't look much like the horizontal axis, propeller-style turbines many people associate with wind power. The vertical models are shaped more like soup cans, and the motion of the blades bears a passing resemblance to the whir of a blender, albeit a noiseless one.
The model at the U of M is more than three metres high and has the same diameter, and is worth roughly $10,000, Stuart said.
The Alternative Village already includes a straw bale building used to highlight alternative building methods and a number of solar experiments. Director Kris Dick said students will be able to observe and assess data on the turbine's wind speeds and overall performance, and the energy it generates will power part of the village.
Dick hopes different faculties can pick up knowledge from the turbine, and envisions architecture students using it to figure out how wind power might fit into site plans, for example.
"It becomes a research tool, but it also becomes a teaching tool as well," he said.
Urban wind farms have had a rocky ride in recent years, with skeptics arguing that 'micro' turbines don't always produce enough electricity to make economic sense.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got a lukewarm reception from some environmentalists when he suggested putting wind turbines atop the buildings that make up the city's famous skyline, and a United Kingdom study of 26 small turbines found their performance lagged behind what participants expected, due in part to a lack of wind in some installation sites.
But, Stuart argues vertical axis turbines are different than the more familiar horizontal axis turbines. Horizontal models aren't always sturdy enough for erratic, "dirty" wind patterns in cities, he said, and can be knocked out of alignment when gusts of wind come from different directions.
"On a small scale, a propeller just simply is too sensitive to turbulence," he said.
Stuart believes vertical-axis turbines could work well with geothermal systems, which still need some electricity to run. Ultimately he'd like to get the models on top of condominiums and office buildings, and installed in remote northern communities that now depend on diesel power for electricity.
One of the turbine models his company sells is designed for the roofs of homes, said Stuart, but it's unlikely homeowners will get on board with wind power without financial incentives.
Stuart said Manitoba Hydro has shown early interest in the project, but said more serious involvement would depend on the results of the testing.