Winds of Change: Harnessing Untapped Resources in Urban Areas

- Blog

One of the major action areas for the Innovation Gateway Partners over the previous five years has been investment in renewable energy sources.

The primary focus has been on solar power, with Nottingham City Council, NatWest, Tesco and Unite Students having long-standing installations on their estates, with many aspirations for extending these installations to assist with the route to Net Zero.

Alongside this has been a burgeoning interest in wind power. The Partners are now looking at taking it beyond existing investment in large turbine installations and instead are investigating solutions that will work in their predominantly city-based estates.

There is a large potential in the way winds interacts with the unique features of modern cityscapes – for example, the fact that high-rise structures appear to generate wind tunnels between buildings that could be harnessed for additional renewable energy.

However, there are difficulties associated with urban wind installations that have slowed the uptake of turbines in these locations. These include the turbulent nature of air flow, low wind speeds, and strict planning laws.

When the air in urban environments is turbulent, it makes it difficult for traditional turbine designs, like the standard three-bladed Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT), to take advantage of the power. The speed of air flow is also 20-30% lower in cities than offshore or countryside wind speeds, which makes for a challenging business case.

Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT) have shown more capability to harness the turbulent air of city landscapes, but they have their own drawbacks including lower efficiency and higher requirement for maintenance. It is undeniable that a new approach is required to make the most of this exciting opportunity.

While true innovation in urban wind power appears to be some years off, the Innovation Gateway research team has searched high and low to identify the most exciting opportunities currently in development that tackle the issues detailed above.

Innovations to look out for:

  •  The O-Wind turbine, a 2018 James Dyson award winner, which is an omnidirectional turbine, designed to make use of wind approaching from all directions in 3 dimensions - including wind in the vertical direction. This is not the case for other wind turbines in the market.

    The uniquely designed turbines are well suited to urban environments hence widening the range of suitable locations for the harnessing of sustainable energy. 

    O-Wind are currently formulating their first prototype for trial.
  • Ridgeblade, a Canadian solution that has recently come to the UK. It is a modular, ridge-mounted turbine predominantly designed to take advantage of the design of pitched roofs. This distinctive design forces wind to travel over the roof surface and forms a pinch point at the roof ridge, accelerating the airflow through the turbine. As a result, measured wind speed around the ridge can be just over three times the actual wind speed. 

    Ridgeblade is commercially available and offers a payback commensurable with solar installations.

The Innovation Gateway and its Partners will continue to monitor this field for developments and are in discussions regarding some potential exciting trials in the next few months – watch this space!

As always, if you are aware of any innovative solutions in the wind power space, please do not hesitate to get in touch!

By Zoë ParminterHead of Research