Putting Rooftop Wind Turbines Under the Microscope

a Windspire vertical-axis wind turbine from Mariah Power
The Windspire vertical-axis wind turbine from Mariah Power.
Mariah Power.com

Does it make sense to put wind turbines on the roofs of buildings? There’s anecdotal evidence and case studies that indicate it does not, that turbulence and vibration makes it impractical. But until now there has been little in the way of scientific experiments to prove the point. The Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts is about to change that.

The Museum’s Wind Turbine Lab began with the installation of anemometers in various locations on the roof of its building to determine optimum locations for the wind turbines. The final locations were based on wind speeds and visibility for museum visitors. The completed configuration includes five different small turbines varying size and power capacity and will provide data on energy output, wind conditions, and turbine efficiency. David Rabkin, Director for Current Science and Technology at the Museum, explains, “This is a giant science experiment. No one has tested five different small turbines in a rooftop laboratory.”

One of the turbines, a Windspire, is a vertical-axis model, supplied by Mariah Power. The 30-foot tall turbine has been designed specifically for use in urban, suburban, and rural locations, and functions well regardless of wind speed and direction. It has the added advantage of producing less noise than its typical horizontal-axis counterparts.

Of course, even if the Wind Turbine Lab identifies a turbine design well-suited to rooftop installation, it’s doubtful we’ll see most family homes sporting 30-foot tall turbines — vertical axis or otherwise — any time soon. Residential houses are typically not engineered to handle the stress and vibration of such accessories. As well, anyone hoping to mount such a device in an urban or suburban setting would undoubtedly have to deal with restrictive zoning and bylaws, not to mention resistance from neighbors.

Nevertheless, small, unobtrusive turbines may make practical additions to commercial and industrial buildings, or even serve well mounted on existing light polls, power line towers, and radio antennas.

Whatever the end result, we’re sure to gain a better understanding of the role the wind can play in fulfilling our power-generation requirements, thanks to the Wind Turbine Lab. And that may move us one step closer to achieving a wholly renewable energy infrastructure.

Jules Smith is the principal of LightningStrike Studios, a professional writing firm specializing in Alternative Energy and Information Technology. Visit www.lightningstrikestudios.com to learn more.