The power grid of the future may consist entirely of trees—and we don’t mean biofuel. French R&D company New Wind recently pioneered the “wind tree,” a wind turbine that is both silent and soothing to behold.
While wind turbines are ordinarily thought to be noisy and unsightly, the “Arbre à vent” developed by French entrepreneur Jerôme Michaud-Larivière resembles modern art’s sculptural interpretation of a tree. The biomorphically-inspired contraption features 72 electricity-generating leaves oriented vertically along a white steel frame approximating tree branches.
Made of lightweight plastic treated with element-resistant resin, the leaves can harness winds as light as 4.4 miles per hour, enabling the turbine to continue generating power for 280 days per year, factoring in climate vacillations. Despite this keen sensitivity, the turbine is designed to withstand Category 3 gusts (wind speeds of up to 129 miles per hour). At 26-by-36 feet the “wind tree” is no taller than the average tree, and camouflages with the landscape instead of being a looming presence.
Each rotating leaf contains a generator with a capacity of 3.1 kilowatts of electricity—a modest amount, but a streetscape lined with wind trees could rack up enough juice to power all nearby street lights or a small apartment, according to EarthTechling. The circuitry is wired in parallel and each generator is sealed in protective casing so that the breakdown of one leaf does not gum the system. Meanwhile, the company is replicating the plant-inspired design template in a scaled-down “wind bush” currently in the works and “foliage” as a wind power catch-all on rooftops and balconies and along roadsides to power variable-message signs.
From May through the following March, a demonstrator tree will be installed at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, a major public square, to introduce it to the general public, after which 40 more wind trees will be installed around the country. While prototypes have been installed on select private properties, the item will not be mass produced until summer 2016, and even then will be available only in France and nearby European countries. Each wind tree is slated to retail for approximately $36,500 apiece—slightly more expensive than the traditional 10-kilowatt turbine, which costs an average of $30,000 including installation.