Wind power sans turbines: can you have a wind farm without the fan blades?

Although the day job this week managed to keep me off the blog I did manage to see some interesting things that had little to nothing to do with politics. And, politically speaking, most leftists would have you believe that conservatives like myself are quite dismissive of any energy systems that don’t burn oil or coal. That’s completely untrue – I’m extremely interested in such systems and am constantly on the lookout for innovative approaches. One of the technologies I’ve written about here before is wind power, including the Pickens Plan attempt to shift our application of our energy systems to one that will significantly cut our foreign oil imports.

Wind farms have, themselves, generated a lot of controversy. From the infamous matter of Ted Kennedy’s obstruction of the Cape Wind project because he didn’t want to have to look at the turbines to the alarms of enviromentalists that such wind farms pose a hazard to wildlife to the recently reported discovery that wind farms might actually be causing warming locally, there is plenty of evidence that wind turbines cause a set of problems all their own. There are efforts being made to design wind turbines to address these matters (mostly by moving the turbines out of the problem area) one New York design firm is coming to the table with a fresh innovation. They’re suggesting removing the turbines completely.

Atelier DNA won 2nd place in a design competition by proposing the use of a technology they call a “wind stalk.” The idea uses piezoelectric materials – those that generate an electric charge when compressed – inside a very long and flexible pole extending 180 feet into the air. As the wind blows, the stalk sways in the breeze like a tree. As it bends back and forth in the wind, the movement continually compresses 1 side or the other of the internal piezoelectic and ceramic disks, generating power. The design they submitted was a proposal to build a park that contained about 1200 stalks over a patch 280,000 square feet. Their estimates are that their design would produce as much power as a conventional, turbine-based wind farm of the same size. The difference would be two-fold: the windstalk design doesn’t churn the air and so avoids the local warming problem and it’s completely silent, save for the whistle of the wind through the stalks.

It’s an ingenious design and a fascinating approach to the problem. With no large fan blades it’s not a chopping danger to local wildlife. It’s not directional, meaning it can generate power regardless of which way the wind is blowing. It doesn’t have externally moving parts that might catastrophically fail. The designers are also proposing a submarine version would would likely work even better owing to the increased denisity of water. Such “wavestalk” designs would harvest energy from the tides and be completely out of sight, thus avoiding the whole “nimby” issue.

This is the kind of effort I love to see. New approaches to the problems we face that actually do something as opposed to simply complaining about the issue are the sort of things that need to be rewarded. And, I’ll point out, that Atelier DNA hasn’t chewed up $500 million of taxpayer money doing it, either.