First, let me draw your attention to a fantastic piece of listicle eye candy over at Treehugger - "The Future of Wind Power: 9 Cool Innovations." Now, futuristic eye candy and linkbait lists are of course a dime a megabyte on the Internet nowadays, and it's anyone's guess whether any of that stuff ever makes it to primetime.
Still, the items on that list are far more deserving of the "cool" modifier than most such things, and I'd like to zoom in on one in particular. It's Treehugger's Item No. 3: "Bladeless Wind Power." The wind energy plant in question is Windstalk, a wind turbine design without spinning blades that was created as part of a competition to help provide clean energy to Masdar, the sci-fi city being built in the desert outside Abu Dhabi.
There are several things particularly noteworthy about the idea. First, this thing is moon-mission level compelling as a conceptual art piece:
I mean, dig that: an orchard of resin poles swaying in the breeze, their tops tipped in glittering LED, their subterranean bases spinning out energy as the poles catch and channel precious rainwater to feed a fertile garden at their bases. I defy you to find a carbon capture pipe that can set minds racing the way this Windstalk idea can.
Beyond the wow factor, though, Windstalk is notable because it addresses and pretty much completely solves the chief knock against wind power. Namely, the NIMBY thing. The fact that people don't like giant rotating blades spinning on the horizon, making low-level rumbling sounds and wrecking the view and giving rise to all manner of specious health impact claims.
And Windstock's also notable because of all the items on this list, it's probably got the best shot of actually being built in the next few years. This is because of its affiliation with Masdar, Abu Dhabi's crazily ambitious future city already rising from the sands of the Arabian desert. Masdar has been hatched as a model city for next-generation sustainability, a wholly self-sufficient, renewably powered district to eventually be occupied by 40,000 residents and 50,000 commuters. There are already solar installations at Masdar. A stretch of track for the Personal Rapid Transit pod vehicles is already hosting traffic. If Masdar's deep-pocketed sky's-the-limit dreamers decide Windstalk's viable, its poles could actually be up and swaying and making power before long.
It's fun to imagine what kind of wild, pioneering symbol that would represent - that this thing could jump from drawing board to grid in a few short years, changing the most basic understanding of what a wind turbine is all but overnight. Don't like spinning blades? Wish turbines were quieter? Well, here you go, then!
This, more than anything else, is why the most chin-scratching and tongue-clucking of the tastemakers that Grist's David Roberts calls Very Serious People should be ignored when it comes to renewable energy. Because we're not talking about merely swapping out one kind of power plant for another one. This isn't just a matter of counting and pricing kilowatt-hours. There's a crazy-dream continuum in high tech that you can trace from the plastic fantastic inventions of the automobile age to the space program to Silicon Valley, and it now points with ever-greater frequency to green energy, hyper-efficiency, a low-carbon future. It gives rise to ideas like Windstalk. It makes heads spin and pulses race. It suggests that anyone's Very Serious estimate of renewable energy's potential was obsolete an hour after it was made.
The future's not a cleaner smokestack with a pipe drilled back into the ground. It's a swaying pole in the desert breeze, churning out energy like butter underground. If you were to remake "The Graduate" today, then imagine the scene where Benjamin's father's friend pulls him aside for a Very Serious piece of advice. "I just want to say one word to you," says the older man. "Just one word." And what word would he choose now? Not plastics, of course. Certainly not clean coal or cap-and-trade. Nope. He'd say: "Cleantech." Or, just maybe, "Windstalk."
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