San Francisco Tests Wind-Powered Skyscrapers

Feb. 24, 2012

An external vertical wind turbine structure will soon stretch up to the roof of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s new headquarters, powering at least 7% of the building’s energy needs and paving the way for turbine-integrated skyscrapers.

The building sits at 525 Golden Gate Ave., near the intersection of 10th and Market streets – one of San Francisco’s windiest areas. Its design was developed with the help of Bruce White and Case Van Dam, engineering professors and co-leaders of the Wind Energy Collaborative at the University of California Davis.

The project drew on the collaborative’s previous ground-level studies of winds in downtown San Francisco showing that wind energy devices on the city’s high-rise buildings would be economically feasible. The team opted for a vertical-axis turbine because its design reduced the likelihood of bird strikes even though a horizontal-axis design would generate more dependable energy.

The high pedestrian-level ground winds in the City by the Bay make it a logical place to test the technology, but the turbine’s potential benefits are not limited to San Francisco, White reassures.

“In terms of applications for wind energy and renewables, every city is a potential candidate,” White explains. “As you go up, the wind increases. Once you’re 200 feet or above, you get strong winds everywhere on earth.”

The wind in urban areas is not as powerful as a wind farm would require, White says. However, the turbine is not tied to the grid, allowing the building owner to cut out the middleman.

“You generate power on the building and use the power in the building,” explains White. “You don’t need to go to a power utility. You can be one-third as efficient as a wind farm and still be economically feasible.”

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