According to the New York Times, wind turbines are all the rage in New York City. We decided to find out for ourselves what all the buzz—or whoosh?—was about. So we met with wind turbine maker UGE and its mechanical engineer, Darius Salgo, who was kind enough to show us around the newly-installed wind turbines on top of one NYC high-rise.
Three of UGE's vertical axis wind turbines were recently installed atop the freshly-built Pearson Apartment Building, in Long Island City, Queens. My first question: Why vertical axis turbines? It turns out that they're much better at catching turbulent winds—the kind you'd find in a city—than their well known horizontal axis cousins. And why three? That, on the other hand, was a purely aesthetic choice.
You can't set up these turbines just anywhere. UGE had to evaluate the area to find out if it would even be worth it, efficiency-wise, to build them here—since this is the highest building on the edge of a relatively low group of buildings.
There's been plenty of contention about whether it's even worth building turbines on top of buildings, due to the low cost-to-energy-output ratio. Still, the turbines atop the Pearson building will produce enough energy to cover the building's costs in common room lighting.
The blades of the turbines are similar to an aeroplane wing in design. They only require the wind to get it going—after that, the turbines will maintain a relatively constant speed.
The turbines feed directly into grid when they're turned on, and that energy generated will offset the utility costs of the building each month. For now, each is locked in place until the details with the power company get straightened out.
Underneath the turbines, in the mechanical room, the energy feeds into a series of components designed to modulate it. The three turbines correlate to three stations: The first stop is the wind regulator box. This box analyses how fast the turbines are spinning and thus the amount of energy coming off the turbines—and then decides how much is too much.
If they're producing too much energy, the excess gets released through a diversion load which is just a massive resistor that turns the excess energy into dispelled heat. Then it applies a magnetic force onto the turbines themselves in order to make them spin at a slower speed.
The manageable energy is sent to an inverter which relays it to the grid. In between all these components is a little box made by UGE—this is a power monitoring system that allows the individual turbines to be monitored via the web. The building management will be using those to keep an eye on what they're getting out of each machine.
The turbines are, without a doubt, very distinctive. They employ some great technology that a unique neighbourhood like Long Island City could use to pioneer the micro-grid movement.
So while questions remain about whether three turbines are enough to really make a significant impact on energy usage, one thing is for sure: They're putting renewable energy in front of thousands of New Yorkers who might not be thinking about it otherwise.