18 Rooftop Wind Turbines Do Their Part

Gernot Wagner argues forcefully in But Will the Planet Notice that doing the little things doesn’t count, doesn’t make a damn bit of difference, not when it comes to clean energy and saving the planet from climate change. “The fundamental forces guiding the behavior of billions are much larger than any one of us,” Wagner writes. “It’s about changing our system, creating a new business as usual…. In the end, it comes down to markets, and the rules of the game that govern what we chase and how we chase it.”

If that truly is the case, then join me now in suspending disbelief and loving the 18 vertical-axis wind turbines atop the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s new research tower. By Wagner’s cold logic, they won’t make a perceptible dent in global carbon emissions and therefore are nearly meaningless, save perhaps for some vague inspirational value they might provide. But there they stand, each turbine 18 and a half feet tall, “in three parallel rows … mounted in a specially designed hood that crowns the roof of OMRF’s 130-foot-tall research tower,” spinning away. Watch the men in suits make it happen:

The Venger Wind Model 2 turbines are constructed of aluminum and steel, “making them heavy-duty enough to withstand the Oklahoma elements but light enough to harness the maximum amount of wind power,” OMRF said. They’re expected to produce 85,500 kilowatt-hours of energy annually – about what seven average American homes burn in a year. The tower’s electrical system takes the energy when it’s available, and switches to power from the local utility OG&E when it isn’t.

“That’s not enough for the whole tower to run on wind energy alone, but it’s an investment in the future,” OMRF President Dr. Stephen Prescott said of the turbine output. “By making some of our own energy and using new technology to make the rest of the building energy efficient, we’re cutting our carbon emissions by about 2 million pounds annually and saving the equivalent of 44,000 gallons of gasoline each year.”

Hmm. That’s beginning to sound like it might actually add up to something. Like it might make a difference. Maybe?

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Gernot Wagner

    Nicely spotted. There’s indeed a renewables revolution brewing that may yet help turn things around: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/opinion/rio-isnt-all-lost.html

    • Pete

      Many thanks for the note. Loved your book. It was a bit depressing, since I’m skeptical of our collective ability to make the kind of fundamental, systemic shifts you describe as necessary. Very nice, then, to see the optimism of your Times op-ed.
      Pete Danko 

  • Werner Rhein

    If we all do our tiny little bit reducing fossil fuels and go to renewable energy sources, even if the impact is small of each individual installation; then Gernot Wagner’s argument becomes meaningless and unimportant. The main gain, we all would have, beside saving our only livable Planet is, we would become our own masters again and Big Business would loose their grip on us to enslave us to there destructive greedy behavior.

  • Alex Laverick

    Double helix blades are what i plan to use when I make my own wind turbine.

  • Cathy Thorsen

    The more we practice being the change we wish to see in the world, the more that change will gain momentum. Every journey begins with a single step. Beginnings are almost always small.

  • Scot Merrick

    Those turbines are a friggin joke. Sorry. Don’t get me wrong, I love wind power and those look super cool… but I really prefer them to work… as in produce kWh for a reasonable price. There is a reason utility scale machines all have blades. These machines have terrible efficiency… The DOE, along with several other countries have spent a lot of money researching vertical axis turbines and Savonious rotors are terrible… even if you make them look all cool like a double helix. This projected was for PR and LEED points, because LEED doesn’t require you to used certified gear. Non certified gear might not actually work so well.

    • Pete D

      I share your skepticism about rooftop wind. I ought to check back in and see if they’re coming through with that forecast 85,000 kWh/year….

      • Scot Merrick

        Hello Pete D, I stand corrected with respect to LEED. It seems as though the standards have changed… And I would be lying if I claimed to keep up with LEED code. I don’t want to come across as a negative Nancy. The building and the staff of OMRF are absolutely amazing. I have toured the facility and was more than impressed with the intelligence of the building. I.E. you scan a parking pass and your office begins to condition itself before you get there.

    • Pete D

      After posting my earlier comment, I was curious about how many LEED points the OMRF tower got for the wind turbines. Turns out the answer is zero. LEED does not award points for installation of renewable energy devices (at least, not the version that this building used for its Gold certification). For on-site renewable energy, LEED awards up to 3 points, but it’s entirely performance based, based on energy produced by the renewable system as a percentage of the building annual energy cost. 2.5% for 1 point, 7.5% for 2 points and 12.5% for 3 points.