Wind energy is a type of renewable energy one would love to see everywhere, be it out in the rural country of the United States or atop one’s more urban dwelling. The problem with the latter is that it is often impractical to put more traditional looking wind turbines on the roof of an apartment building. Enter the vertical axis wind turbine design, with one of the more recognized companies in this space being New York City-based Urban Green Energy (UGE).
UGE has made a bit of a splash for itself in the vertical axis wind turbine market with its, if a wind turbine can be called as such, stylish looking designs, also known as the eddy and eddyGT models. The company has on its hands as well a contemporary looking hybrid streetlight called Sanya, which draws power not only from a turbine but also an integrated solar panel. These products and others are helping to raise UGE’s profile, as was a gutsy move the company made back in January when it chose to be one of the first wind turbine companies ever to go on display at the Consumer Electronics Show. To learn more about UGE, we recently interviewed CEO Nick Blitterswyk.
EarthTechling (ET): How did Urban Green Energy come to be involved in wind power?
Nick Blitterswyk: Urban Green Energy was from the start focused on vertical axis wind turbines. It was a technology I was interested in and after extensively researching the industry I came to believe that it was an excellent opportunity based on market potential as well as the players that were at that time in the market. Fortunately I was able to convince my two co-founders of the same and in late 2007 we decided to start UGE. Here we are a little more than three years later and we couldn’t be happier with that decision.
ET: Talk about your eddy vertical axis wind turbine. What makes it so unique?
Blitterswyk: eddy is a culmination of our original goal to make wind energy accessible to a much wider audience. Although the larger wind turbines that we are all used to seeing in wind farms are a very well established technology, small wind (or “distributed wind”) is still very much in its infancy. That is largely because traditionally small wind turbines have mimicked larger ones – they usually look very much the same.
The issue is, however, that the types of winds one encounters on a smaller scale are quite different than the ones on wind farms. For starters, getting a permit for a really tall tower is almost impossible for most people. But also, if you are only spending a few thousand dollars for a wind turbine such as eddy, it usually doesn’t make sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a tall tower for that turbine. As such, the winds that most small wind turbines face when closer to the ground switch directions more frequently and are generally more turbulent, so you need a wind turbine that takes that into account.
eddy does this through several features. The first thing you’ll notice is that it operates on a vertical axis. By being designed in this way, at any time it can take winds from any direction without needing to pivot, which is a huge advantage when the wind is switching directions frequently. Second, the blades are curved in several dimensions so that no matter which way wind is coming from there will be a part of the blade for it to catch. One other piece of technology we are proud of is our “dual axis technology”. The way we have designed the wind turbine is such that we have an inner and outer axis, which allows us to spread the turbine’s weight as well as the sideways forces over a greater distance, drastically increasing the product’s durability and performance.
And of course, it helps if the product looks attractive and I couldn’t be more pleased with the product’s appearance. The organic, sexy product is a real eye catcher. We also give the option to customize the color to give it a real personal feel. The product is also virtually silent and has almost no vibration. When all put together, it’s a product that looks and performs great for its user.
ET: Is the eddy something consumers could use? Why or why not?
Blitterswyk: Right now approximately half our customers are homeowners, so yes, definitely! For all the reasons from your last question, our wind turbines are great products for someone looking to lower their environmental impact and make a green statement.
ET: You also have in your product line up the Sanya wind/solar hybrid streetlamp. What makes this unique compared to similar products?
Blitterswyk: Yes, we actually just launched the Sanya street lamp recently in San Francisco where several of them have been installed right outside City Hall. This is a completely self contained unit that produces all the power required on site using the eddy wind turbine and a solar panel. There is also an energy efficiency play in this product – it uses an LED light which consumes far less electricity than a regular light.
Like all our products, the Sanya comes together in a great looking package. Not only is it a cost effective way for cities and businesses to go green, it also includes a marketing aspect in that the “sail” can be customized. The attached pictures are from the San Francisco installation where former mayor Gavin Newsom’s office decided to use the sails as an opportunity to describe its green initiatives.
ET: What’s next for Urban Green Energy in terms of product development?
Blitterswyk: 2010 has been a really exciting year for us. In late 2009 we had launched our larger wind turbine, the UGE-4K, but it wasn’t until this year that we launched eddy (in May), eddy GT (in September), and finally the Sanya just recently. Our team at UGE is very focused on constant innovation and I guarantee we will have some exciting surprises for 2011. Stay tuned!
[Editor’s note: In the time since this interview was done, UGE has also launched UGE 1st Step, an anemometer and weather station that is said to provide an easy solution to help consumers transition to wind energy.]