France’s green artistic panache
Leave it to the French to make something as mundane as a wind turbine into a work of art by installing two of them on the Eiffel Tower.
Yes, that Eiffel Tower, which itself is a monument to both creativity and sustainability: when it was built in 1889 it was only intended to last for 20 years. In the ensuing 126 years the tower has gone through many renovations, but the latest sends a decidedly green message whirling into the future.
Earlier this year, the renewable energy firm Urban Green Energy installed two wind turbines inside the metal scaffolding of the tower. The turbines will produce 10,000 kilowatt hours, enough to power the tower’s first floor commercial establishments, which include restaurants, a souvenir shop, and exhibits about the history of the tower.
The turbines are part of a plan to reduce the environmental impact of the tower. Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), the organization that runs the tower, is also installing rainwater collection systems, LED lights, and solar panels on it.
And that’s not all, recent legislation in France mandated that the roofs of all new buildings in commercial areas must be so-called green roofs, which are at least partially covered in either solar modules or with living plants. As well as potentially delivering a boost to installed solar capacity across the country, green roofs provide a thermal insulating effect and moderate rain run-off, while also boosting biodiversity.
While the law only requires partial (50 percent) coverage of commercial buildings—the green movement wanted the entire roof to be covered—it does signal a willingness to engage with renewable energy policy issues by the government, which has seen solar development in the country stall over the last few years. French installed PV capacity figures have shown a modest recovery after two years of decline following a shift away from a feed-in tariff scheme to competitive tenders.
Early this year, energy minister Segolene Royale launched a new call for tenders for photovoltaic power installations of 100 to 250 kWp for a total power of 120 MW in three tranches of 40 MW. Meanwhile, in a bid to reinvigorate the domestic PV sector the government has revised the feed-in tariff for projects up to 36 kW.
According to recent government figures, the country installed 386 MW of solar PV in the first half of 2014 — a close to 60 percent increase over the equivalent period of 2013 — but still significantly down on the 1 GW+ 2011 figures.
Other parts of Paris are also getting into the green makeover act. Newsweek reported that a few streets in Paris will get their own camouflaged wind turbines that are shaped like trees.
Here’s a short video of the Eiffel Tower’s wind turbines in action:
Jan Gromadzki, an engineer who oversaw the project for the New York-based UGE, says the tower consumes an estimated 6.7 GWh a year, so the wind turbines are “just a small drop in the ocean.”
The “installation is definitely more symbolic,” Gromadzki says. “But it is still significant because the merchant spaces on the first floor do consume energy, and being able to offset that consumption is something people can really assimilate and understand.”
The curved, tri-blade turbines were designed and installed by UGE. The Eiffel Tower posed unique challenges. Each blade had to be hoisted by hand and pulley up to the second floor, and secured within the building’s tight lattice structure along its southwest corner. The entire installation had to be done at night, since the Eiffel Tower is open to the public until 11PM seven days a week.
SETE wanted “something that would make a visual statement,” Gromadzki says, without distracting from its distinct silhouette. So the blades were painted in a brown-grey hue to match the building, and extra vibration dampeners were added to make sure the turbines wouldn’t disturb diners at the upscale Jules Verne restaurant below. When running at full speed, the turbines only produce about 40 decibels of sound — about the equivalent of a whisper.
“It really does represent this big leap forward for renewable energy as a whole, to have this technology to the point where it can be easily adopted by consumers like the Eiffel Tower,” Gromadzki adds. “And I think that was something that, five years ago, no one would’ve been ready for. It demonstrates that we’ve come this far to create renewable energy technologies that can be easily integrated into the daily lives of people around the world.”
Turning wind turbines into visually appealing structures in urban landscapes creatively and effectively refutes the typical criticisms, which say they take up too much space, make too much noise and ruin the landscapes in which they are built.
Image: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France/UGE VisionAIR5 wind turbines via UGE photo gallery.