Harnessing wind power could soon become a breeze. Today, most of our wind power comes from large-scale wind farms set upon rolling hills and windswept coastlines. Floating wind farms are also cropping up in deeper waters, where the winds are stronger. But what if we could build wind turbines in our cities, right here in our own backyards? Not the tall and bulky poles with the huge spinning blades, but a new kind of wind turbine—one that could hide in plain sight and easily be mistaken for a wall?
American designer and entrepreneur Joe Doucet has created such a concept, and it looks like a kinetic art installation. His wind turbine wall consists of a grid of square panes spinning simultaneously along 25 axes. The exact size and format aren’t set in stone, so variations of that wall could be used anywhere with a decent span, like on the side of a highway or the fence around a building. In other words, it could make wind farms even more pervasive—not just in the ocean but also on land.
In its current iteration, the wall is made up of 25 off-the-shelf wind turbine generators (the middle part the blades spin around). These are attached to 25 vertical rods with square panels attached alongside them. Right now, the wall is 8 feet tall and 25 feet wide, but the concept can be scaled. “You could have 25-foot rods clad entire buildings,” says Doucet. The only challenge would be to get the weight ratio right, so to make it lighter, Doucet envisions a framework made of aluminum, which can then be clad with any lightweight material.
In recent years, wind power has become one of the most popular sources of renewable energy in the United States. The wind energy market is projected to cross $180 billion by 2027, and just last week, the Biden administration announced its plans to line the entire U.S. coast with wind farms. “There are a lot of reasons why wind farms are in the ocean,” says Doucet. “These are massive towers; you’re not going to see them littered around the cityscape.” To be fair, many wind farms are in the ocean—or along the coast—because those are the windiest places that aren’t obstructed by buildings or other signs of urban life.
But that isn’t to say that cities aren’t prone to high winds, too. In Boston, for example, the winds were so strong that in 2016, they overturned a century-old, 8-foot-tall statue of Benjamin Franklin. A traditional wind farm wouldn’t work in Boston. An array of wind turbine walls, however, might just do the trick.
Doucet has built a prototype for a single spinning rod and run simulations based on that. The average annual electricity consumption for an American home uses a little over 10,000 kilowatt-hours per year. One of these walls would be enough. But where Doucet sees true potential is in larger-scale commercial buildings and even cities. “Instead of the typical retaining walls along roads and freeways, you’d have an array of these,” says Doucet, who says he’s in conversation with several manufacturers to help him bring the product to market. “With the added wind boost from trucks, our highways could take care of all our energy needs.”
Sometime in the near future then, anywhere with enough span for a 25-foot wall could become a potential source of energy. “In urban areas, there’s not a lot of open sunlight for solar to work, says Doucet. “Wind is always there.”