After 126 years as a staple of Parisian postcards and tourist snapshots, the Eiffel Tower now looks slightly different: High above the ground, two new wind turbines are pumping energy down to the souvenir shops and restaurants on the tower’s first floor. It’s part of the management’s push to become a little more sustainable.
“They were working on a massive renovation of the first level and wanted to include renewable energy,” says Jan Gromadzki, an engineer for Urban Green Energy, the company that designed and installed the wind turbines for the tower. “Once they realized there were products available for wind that would fit and work well with the existing structure, they went ahead and did it.”
Wind energy, rather than solar power, was uniquely suited for the building. “Being up on the tower, it was very evident wind was the right choice,” he says. “We’re so far up above the rest of Paris that we actually get very strong winds, very powerful winds that can be used and harnessed to produce energy. Solar would have required quite a bit of space, which they really don’t have on the tower. It would also look like glass, and they didn’t want to cover any of the structure.”
The 17-foot turbines, painted to match the rest of the iron-clad building, are visible from across the Seine. Though the designers worried that people might dislike the changes, the opposite has been true. “I was wondering what the French people would think of it in general, because they’re very protective of this structure, it represents their heritage,” says Gromadzki. “But the French press has been very positive.”
The wind turbines are specifically designed for urban towers, and the company is beginning to install them in cities around the world. “They have a lot of qualities that conventional wind turbines don’t,” Gromadzki explains. “They don’t make any noise and they don’t produce any vibrations, which is a great concern for tenants, because they don’t want to be living in something that’s going to be shaking and moving.” At the Eiffel Tower, the turbines rest on top of a fancy restaurant, but diners won’t hear them at work.
Because the wind turbines could only be installed in a particular location–on the western side of the building, where there would be the most wind, and on a rooftop where there was enough space–the tower was limited to adding only two of the devices.
Though they only provide a small fraction of the energy used by the building, they serve as a symbol. “Having such an important monument adopt this technology really makes a strong statement for renewable energy,” Gromadzki says.