URBAN ReTHINK

Urban Innovation: Steel and Plastic “Trees” to Generate Energy

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By: Pierre Herman

Energy self-sufficiency is a long way off for most cities, but could this innovative idea born in a French start-up help prod cities towards liberation from traditional energy sources? It’s not likely, but start-up New Wind has produced what it hopes will line major avenues and become a vanguard of energy production in cities of the future.

The 11 meter tall “tree”, made of a steel trunk and plastic mini-turbine leaves, produces energy with a fraction of the wind needed for traditional wind turbines, combined with a more eye-pleasing appearance designed to blend in with urban environments. Aside from aesthetics, the main benefit is the low input of energy needed to get the “leaves” turning. According to New Wind, only 2 meters per second of wind is required, versus 4 to 5 meters per second with larger propeller-blade turbines which translates into more energy even on calm days.

The first energy-producing tree will hit the streets of Paris in March of 2015, when a prototype will be installed at Place de la Concorde. New Wind says it will begin mass production in 2016, and that even with the initial cost of $37,000 (US), the trees should pay for themselves within 2 years.

Personally I’m taken by the idea, although I’m curious as to their effectiveness in cold-weather and how bird-friendly the trees are. Will initially innovative, wind-producing trees turn into tired and tacky eyesores for trend-savvy urbanites? There’s also the question of how environmentally-friendly the steel and plastic they are made of is, both being polluting and energy-intensive to produce.

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