The Metropolis Magazine has been holding Next Generation Design Competition since 2003. They want to provide a platform for young designers to promote the spirit of activism, social involvement, and entrepreneurship. They offer prize money of $ 10,000. But the real attraction is the publicity given to the projects of winners and runners-up. This recognition helps abstract ideas take concrete forms. For 2009, the theme for the Next Generation Design Competition was: How do we fix our energy addiction? They offered some guidelines, “Think about how we live and work, what we use, how we get where we need to go, hidden costs to our pocket books and the environment, across the whole design spectrum. Focus on one area that needs fixing—products, interiors, buildings and landscape, communication systems, or anything else you can imagine—and develop your idea fully. And above all, think of our energy addiction as a design problem at all scales.”
The result of the Next Generation contest 2009 is out. A French team of an engineer along with two architects has won this year’s prestigious prize for “Wind-it” design. They are the first non-US winners of the prize. The team suggests to place wind turbines inside existing high-voltage electricity pylons. Names of the members of the winning team are Julien Choppin and Nicola Delon. They are partners in the Paris architecture firm Encore Heureux. The third member Raphael Menard is the director of Elioth that is a conceptual and experimental research wing of the large French engineering firm Iosis Group. They were judged to have best met the 2009 Next Generation Prize Challenge: “FIX OUR ENERGY ADDICTION.”
Wind farms are often considered an eyesore and they require large area for installation. People often complain that they spoil the skyline of the area. Wind-it project offers to answer many challenges we face while setting up wind farms in an area. One of the greatest challenges to the expansion of wind power: where to site wind turbines. Choppin, Delon and Menard’s design uses the existing infrastructure. They suggest the use of already existing towers and pylons that dot the more than 157,000 miles of high voltage power lines in the U.S. They ask us to install the wind turbines within already sited structures. Alexandros Washburn, who is the New York’s chief urban designer and a judge for the Next Generation competition, shares his opinion, “The genius of the proposal is that it solved probably the biggest issue of wind production, which is where to locate these very large structures. By incorporating them into transmission towers, which are already located and of the same scale as wind towers, the idea of how it looks on the landscape is very cleverly integrated.”
Another problem that wind farms face is how to transmit the power generated by wind? Wind-it proposal is so simple and practical that we often wonder that why this project has already been not implemented. Wind-it solves the problem of linking energy generation and electricity transmission in the same way–by co-locating them.
By using this new idea, we can pump wind energy right into the grid. We don’t have to create an extensive infrastructure and save the money. Statistics suggest if a third of France’s towers were installed with turbines, they could crank out as much as two nuclear reactors — about 5% of the country’s power needs. This figure might not sound impressive but it will generate a steady stream of clean energy by investing less amount of money.
A marriage of towers and turbines isn’t unheard of. Urban Green Energy, a wind-power start-up in New York, presently installed turbines atop the French telecom company Alcatel-Lucent’s cellular-communication spires. The turbines are nearly indistinguishable to those explained in Wind-it. The key difference is that the Alcatel-Lucent system utilizes its power on-site; Wind-it suggests tapping it into the grid.
There are some practical problems in implementing Wind-it project as such. The American power grid is clogged, archaic, and small. It is possible that the areas where Wind-it could be most effective would be unable to transmit electricity to the cities where it’s most needed. It’s an obstacle for any wind-power entrepreneur in the country. For a fresh enterprise that leans almost entirely on existing infrastructure, it could be the coup de grâce. “The most efficient way to go about this,” says Nick Blitterswyk, cofounder of Urban Green Energy, “would be to build new towers.” Many of the experts had suggested that route. Wind-it XL was designed as a two-in-one package. It minds several, if not all, the issues above and would be best suited to regions where the nuts and bolts of modern civilization remain unassembled.