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London's Strata Tower Wind Turbines: Eco-Power or Hot Air?

The power-generating wind turbines that sit atop London's Strata tower could turn out to be nothing more than greenwashing on a grand scale.

London's Strata Tower Wind Turbines: Eco-Power or Hot Air?

London's Strata tower has already accomplished one thing most other skyscraper construction projects fail: on-time completion. But it has yet to prove the efficacy of its design, which incorporates three gigantic wind turbines.

When we wrote about the 43-story building-in-progress earlier this year, it was being hailed during its development as a beacon of sustainable design—the first residential skyscraper to structurally integrate wind turbines rather than tacking them on after the fact. The three 30-foot turbines are intended to meet 8% of the building's power needs, which under the city's new feed-in tariff would also return the Strata more than $25,000 annually in energy savings.

Of course, on a building as ambitious as this, the cutting of the ribbon opens the door to all sorts of criticism. Nearly 70 comments have piled up on yesterday's Guardian story claiming that the turbines may never generate a watt, as the wealthy occupants of the upper floors find the noise and vibrations intolerable. Others complain that 8% is a pitiful outcome given the massive investment into making the building a symbol of environmental progress.

The Guardian article posited that this amount of wind-generated energy would be sufficient "to run the building's electrical and mechanical services as well as the lighting, heating and ventilation of its public spaces," but Jeremy Faludi, research lead at Project Frog and Stanford sustainable design instructor, calls such a projection ridiculous. "HVAC and lighting will likely be three-quarters of the building's energy use," he predicts.

This discord reflects some of the friction between the PR appeal of showcasing a novel design and the real costs of designing a one-off system. "In the engineering field, the reputation of wind in building-integrated projects is quite poor," says renewable energy consultant Ben Polito, "it's something that architects are more excited about. The things can be built and made to produce some amount of electricity but the cost effectiveness is going to be an order of magnitude less than the cost effectiveness of a conventional machine in a green field."

The grievances arising around the Strata join a chorus of discontented Londoners who see a schism between the city's highly publicized intentions to green the city in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics, and what's actually taking place on the ground as they try to execute their plans. It seems the most sustainable solutions still lack sex appeal, while the more alluring and well-funded green projects may not be very green at all.