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Rooftop and Urban Wind

May 22, 2012
Paul Gipe

Reno Nevada Proves--Again--that "Small Urban Wind" Produces Poor Results


Reno, Nevada is vying for the world record for "Worst Turbine Install in History" through sheer scale, expense, and hubris.

The city has installed seven of nine wind turbines in a "demonstration" of small urban wind. Naturally some of these were installed on buildings.

The last thing the world needs is another "demonstration" project. American's in particular have been "demonstrating" renewable energy for going on three decades now. We've long passed the time for "demonstrations". The time came--and went--years ago for deployment, not more "demonstrations".

Alas, we American's are slow learners and we keep banging our heads against the wall of endless "demonstrations." As Winston Churchill said, Americans can be counted on to do the right thing--after they've exhausted all other possibilities. Apparently, we haven't exhausted all the possible "demonstration" projects yet.

And if there's anything such a poorly conceived project will do it is to "demonstrate" that small urban wind is costly and unproductive, especially by those small wind turbines mounted on buildings.

While I am not privy to the thinking behind this endeavor, there's a likely connection between the City's project and home-grown manufacturer of small VAWTs, Mariah. The company makes a tall slender VAWT called Windspire.

This particular turbine has been aggressively marketed to "urban demonstration projects." These are, for the most part, greenwashing installations for government agencies and various organizations that want to "be seen doing something" but don't want to spend the money, time, or their own effort developing a real project.

The marketing person for Windspire naturally endorsed the City's effort. "We're big proponents of the city putting small wind turbines around because it will introduce more people to the idea of small wind."

Consequently, the City installed one Windspire on a parking garage.

Beginning in mid 2010 the City of Reno began this il-fated program by installing two Cascade Engineering's Swift turbines on top of 17-story City Hall. I've written about these turbines before. At least their estimated production was lower than in the past, only 750 kWh per year. More on this in a moment.

These three turbines alone will, indeed, "introduce more people to the idea of small wind" that is, that small wind, and unfortunately by extension wind in general, doesn't work.

Doing their part to hype small "urban wind", the US Department of Energy gave the City nearly a million dollars in "stimulus" money. Then, to add insult to injury, bragged about the grant on their web site.

Ah yes, USDOE, ever the friend of renewables. As I argued in my 1995 book, Wind Energy Comes of Age, USDOE has probably done more harm to the development of renewable energy than the fossil fuel and nuclear industries combined.

I am saddened to see that they haven't changed their stripes almost two decades later.

The City expected the turbines to generate nearly 40,000 kWh per year.

As of 2012 only seven of the nine turbines had been installed writes Brian Duggan. The two remaining turbines will be installed later this year, he adds.

The City paid more than $20,000 for a Helix turbine, famous for other "worst turbine install in history" accomplishments, that generated an incredible 34 kWh in the two years since it was installed on a parking garage.

One of Cascade Engineering's Swift turbines generated all of 129 kWh in its first year.

The Windspire turbine has generated 166 kWh in more than one year of operation.

On the other hand, the Gaia wind turbine outside of town exceeded it's projections of 10,500 kWh per year--almost half the total generated by all the turbines in the program.

Now Gaia's generation is significant for several reasons. The Gaia turbine was not installed on a rooftop. It's also not a VAWT but a two-bladed HAWT (conventional wind turbine). More importantly, Gaia puts a big 13-meter diameter rotor on its machine not some dinky little 2-meter diameter rotor like those on the Swift turbines atop City Hall.

With the full-on attack by the fossil fuel industry and their right wing sycophants, and professional anti-renewables bloggers, the results from Reno come at a particularly bad time in the run up to the presidential election where energy policy will be an issue.

And, as expected, right wing bloggers have picked up the scent and they smell blood. Here's what one blogger, citing "coalblog.org" as their source has to say.

"Yep this really looks like cost effective energy to me. Wake up people, at this time the only viable energy sources are oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear. I read a story this morning about 14,000 abandoned wind turbines in the US alone. And that doesn't take into account the many bird kills that these turbines are responsible for."

Note that reference to "14,000 abandoned wind turbines in the US alone." That's a tell-tale signature for right wing followers of anti-renewable bloggers. For more on that see "Debunking Myths" section of my web site.

So, if the City of Reno wanted to "demonstrate" the folly of small urban wind energy, they've delivered.

At least they got one decent wind turbine out of the bunch, the Gaia, but for a reportedly $400,000 program that's a lot for one working wind turbine.

Reno, Nev., Puts Wind Turbines on City Hall Roof

Saving Money in Reno's Wind Tunnels

Reno revises windmill costs: $416,000, not $1 million

List of Turbines in Reno Program

Wind Energy Demonstration Program

Reno energy-making windmills show mixed results

Reno Green Energy Dashboard


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