At a time when surging population levels and steadily rising standards of living demand ever-increasing quantities of energy, the sources of cheap energy are dwindling. For instance, global production of oil peaked several years ago; natural gas reservoirs worldwide are running out; coal production is on the decline; rivers that power hydroelectric dams are running dry; and uranium deposits are being used up, even before all of the planned nuclear power plants come online. All signs indicate that the current energy crisis will only worsen in the years ahead. Yet energy production is not the only component of the energy equation upon which all modern civilization depends: Transmission of that energy is also critical, because energy that cannot be delivered to where it is needed, may as well not exist. Just as all conventional energy sources are declining, so too is our energy transmission infrastructure — from rusting oil pipelines to broken electrical transmission towers.
Wind energy is one of the green energy sources that proponents argue may be the most promising alternative to conventional sources. But it faces a number of significant hurdles: Where can we locate the wind turbines so as not to disrupt migrating birds and (non-migratory) humans? How do we bring the generated electricity into a nation's electrical grid, without incurring the financial and environmental costs of running new power lines from the wind turbines to the nearest electrical substations? The alert reader will have seen the connection between these problems and the unused transmission towers mentioned earlier.
A French design team — composed of Nicola Delon, Julien Choppin, and Raphael Menard — certainly saw the connection, and turned it into a project, named Wind-it. They propose the installation of large rectangular blades, rotating around the central vertical axis of each transmission tower. The design is available in three sizes, depending upon the size and shape of the given tower. The team has calculated that the energy generated by a single tower's turbines could provide enough electricity for one house, at a minimum, and up to 20 houses, assuming optimal turbine size and wind speeds. On a national level, if a third of France's transmission towers were outfitted with Wind-it turbines, then the total electricity generated would be equal to that of two nuclear reactors, which is equivalent to five percent of France's total electricity usage.
The team submitted their ideas to Metropolis Magazine, and consequently won the 2009 Next Generation prize. The project is designed for deployment in France, which plans on quintupling its wind power capacity by 2020. Yet Wind-it could be used equally well in any developed nation that contains an appreciable number of such transmission towers. One can only hope that the publicity generated by this prize will prompt energy industry and governmental decision makers throughout the world to consider this excellent idea.