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August 4, 2016
Paul Gipe

UGE Dumps VAWT Business—What Happens Now to Eiffel Tower & Lincoln Field Turbines?


Controversial developer of “urban” wind projects Urban Green Energy (UGE) is quitting the wind business. Using its in-house designed vertical-axis wind turbine, the New York City-based company installed dozens of the wind turbines on buildings in high-profile locations, including the much-hyped turbines installed inside the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The company excelled at garnering glowing press accounts for its small turbines. Even today a Google search for “Eiffel Tower wind turbines” returns nearly 80,000 hits despite the fact that no new articles have appeared since the spring of 2015. There are no news accounts or reports of production or performance since the media frenzy around the installation of the two turbines over a year ago. (See A Tale of Two Turbines and Eiffel’s Tower.)

As recently as 22 July 2016, Democratic Party think tank Center for American Progress prominently displayed a picture on its web site of the Lincoln Field House in Philadelphia with UGE’s turbines on top of the stadium. (See Renewable Energy, Climate Change and the Democratic Party Platform 2016.) The field house was across the street from where the Democratic Party held its national convention. (UGE had installed 14 of the Chinese-made turbines on the field house.)

Many attendees at the Democratic convention would have seen the wind turbines on the field house, giving them a false impression of what wind energy looks like and how it can be used.

Wind industry veterans criticized the installations in Philadelphia, Paris, and elsewhere as mere architectural bling at best, greenwashing at worse.

Critics charged that the turbines were unproven, expensive, and would produce little electricity. They feared that if the helical turbines failed or otherwise did not perform well in high-visibility installations it would give the entire industry a black eye.

UGE’s dumping of its Darrieus wind turbine line brings to a close a turbulent period in the small wind turbine market. During the 2010s, numerous companies launched small vertical-axis wind turbines with great fanfare. Some used helical blades, others straight-blades. Nearly all were manufactured in China. The exception was British-built Quiet Revolution, which failed several years ago because of poor performance and high costs.

Subsidies were rich during the period and there were no controls on what products qualified. Consequently, the market boomed. Even late-night talk show hosts got in the game. It was a recipe for disaster.

UGE stood out from the crowded field by its sophistication and by its marketing to architects and building owners. They particularly appealed to architects seeking green credentials.

Here is a passage from an article on greenwashing. The focus of the article was how the US Green Building Council enabled improper installation of small wind turbines.

“Another firm exploiting LEED is Urban Green Energy (UGE), an importer of Chinese-made Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs). The company promotes using its turbine for “buildings seeking certification under the LEED 2009 for Core & Shell Rating Systems.” They go on to note that “UGE wind turbines contribute toward satisfying EA Credit 2 On-Site Renewable Energy.”

UGE is probably most well known for installing fourteen turbines on the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium at Lincoln Field. While the stadium is not LEED certified, the architects and the team are promoting the installation as “the gold standard in stadium greening.”

One writer characterized UGE’s wind turbines as mere “eye candy,” while the solar panels were the “workhorses” of the installation. She went on to quote Eagles president Don Smolenski saying, the turbines are “a visual representation of our commitment to sustainable efforts.”

These statements imply that UGE’s VAWTs were installed on the stadium more for their visual statement than for the energy they would produce.”

UGE became the last man standing in the small, urban rooftop VAWT market by default. As federal and state governments tightened control on who could qualify for subsides, the market for un-certified wind turbines withered.

In the spring of 2014, UGE announced that one of its turbines had completed testing as part of the certification process for small wind turbines. The press release went on to say that its turbine was “twice as efficient as its competitors.” Not only was the statement unsubstantiated, it wasn’t true.

I calculated that UGE’s VAWT was half as efficient, four times more material intensive, and had no effective means for limiting the rotor’s power in strong winds relative to a competitive conventional wind turbine. Because of this, I feature debunking UGE’s statement in my new book, Wind Energy for the Rest of Us.

Although the company installed some 2,000 wind turbines in 100 countries, its product never completed certification.

What will happen to the UGE turbines inside the Eiffel Tower and on the Lincoln Field House is unknown. UGE’s sale of the product line to a Chinese company includes the product’s liabilities. The Chinese company may be responsible for maintenance and repair. Whether they will honor warranty claims is also unknown.

As long as the turbines spin, most owners of the turbines in architectural applications probably won’t know—or care--whether the turbines generate electricity or not.

And that is the saddest part of this tale. When we need more renewable energy than ever to combat rampant climate change, money and attention were squandered on bling.


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