On a Tiny Museum's Roof, Paris Tests the Limits of Urban Wind Power


The Maison de l'Air and its two wind turbines, in Paris. All photos: Alex Davies

Paris' Maison de l'Air is in the City's 20th arrondissement, on high ground, overlooking the Belleville Park and providing a great view of the whole city. But it's only by standing in the park and looking up at the Maison itself that you see the two rather unassuming wind turbines that adorn the buildings roof. They are the evidence of a year-long and ongoing study, which, those responsible hope, will indicate how to make the City's roofs into an army of wind power generators.
The Belleville Park, as seen from the Maison de l'Air.

As part of Paris' Week of Sustainable Development, I took a tour of the small and little-known museum, which is also where the exhibit "Paris +2º," which imagines the City as a green utopia in the year 2100, is located.) Its interior is filled with models and graphics, meant to teach children everything about air, from how birds fly to how humans pollute the atmosphere.

The wind power initiative is purely research-oriented, meant to study how wind power could effectively be generated in Paris. The two turbines were installed on the roof in the Spring of 2010, and over the course of a year, researchers monitored how much power they produced. Given the Maison's elevated location, they had high hopes going in, but were disappointed by the results: not nearly as much power was produced as they had hypothesized.

But that doesn't mean that the City is wiping its hands of the project. The tour guide emphasized how difficult wind currents are to predict: that's what makes the pragmatic use of small urban windmills so hard to execute. So, the research team will try again: in June, the current turbines will be replaced with a different model for another 6-month or year-long study.

It's good to see that Paris is willing to plunk down the cash (15,000€, or $21,600 for each of the original turbines) and the time (years) required to properly find out how wind power can be effectively used to power the City. Long-term dedication is necessary if France is going to develop alternative energy sources; public opinion has swung some against nuclear power lately. So now, a new long-term study begins, inching Paris closer to the day when all of its roofs will be graced by windmills. At the worst, they'll know it's not possible.

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More on urban wind power:
Urban Modular Architectural Wind Power Microturbines!
10 Small-Scale Wind Turbines Cut NYC Apartment Building's Electric Costs in Half
Is Urban Wind Turbine UK's "Most Useless?"

Tags: Alternative Energy | Paris | Wind Power

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