Portland's First Rooftop Wind Turbines

12W-building-turbines 12w-small-wind

Over the weekend, Hoffman Construction lifted four Southwest Windpower turbines into place on top of a new building, Twelve West.  Located at Southwest 12th Avenue and Washington Street, Twelve West includes a mixture of office and apartment spaces and was designed by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects to achieve LEED Platinum certification.  ZGF included the turbines in early renderings, and developer Gerding Edlen, probably the foremost green developer on the West Coast, determined to give the turbines serious chance.

The turbines appear to be the first to be applied to a building in Portland.  According to the Portland Business Journal, Gerding Edlen, ZGF, and Energy Trust of Oregon all chipped in to pay for the small wind turbines, and only time will tell if the investment pays off. 

In May 2009, Building Green ran a feature article entitled, "The Folly of Building-Integrated Wind," which put a damper on the excitement growing for urban, small wind innovation.  Executive Editor of Environmental Building News and all around green building guru, Alex Wilson, wrote, "[building-integrated wind] turbines must overcome several challenges to meet performance expectations and be cost effective." 

Which means, in most cases, building integrated wind doesn't make sense …

But I guess you could say there's still a chance that building integrated does make sense, and that's what the project team for Twelve West wants to figure out.  The turbines cost about $10,000 each and together provide ~9,000 kilowatt hours yearly, or roughly one percent of the building's electricity.  But this project isn't just about generating energy, it's about learning what works and what doesn't.  And Twelve West will be a good laboratory for that. 

Photo credits: Indigo @ Twelve West.

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  • Anonymous

    I can think of MANY other luxuries most office buildings include that cost at least $20k or more. At least wind turbines WILL contribute something!

  • http://www.sincerelysustainable.com theauthor

    They could’ve saved themselves a lot of money in terms of “seeing what works” by just measuring the sustained wind speeds in Seattle which are no where near fast enough to make a turbine like this one effective unless they’re right on the water.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      It’s Portland and the architects and engineers put a lot of planning into this, including measuring the winds. They’re not only testing production of electricity, but they’re testing the effects of putting four turbines on top of a building.

  • Carole

    I think it’s a great testing ground. We get some serious winds coming down from the gorge here, and it will be intersting to see if this works.

  • MrSteve007

    I’d wager that they’ll be taken down within 18 months. Not only is output always far less than expected on urban wind installs, but the structures will vibrate. To make the supports strong enough, they’re typically installed directly into the vertical support structures of the building. This makes for an ideal opportunity for different frequencies of harmonics to make parts of the building hum and vibrate. As the wind levels rise and fall, the harmonics will shift and cause different portions to vibrate. It is a very annoying phenomena for the building residents.

    You don’t find many builders/designers who do more than one of these rooftop wind projects. They all find out it’s a really bad idea. Hopefully these guys will publicize the results, as most designers are apt to quietly dismiss project failings – and let the cycle of poor decisions repeat elsewhere.

    • Womanphoenix

      Well, it’s been two years and they’re still there.

  • http://www.sincerelysustainable.com theauthor

    I meant Portland. All the developers had to do was look at a wind map on the DOE’s website and they would’ve seen that sustained wind speeds in that area are not conducive to significant power generation via wind.


    Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on something they already knew wouldn’t produce a significant amount of power, they could’ve put it toward a co-generation system or some other form of power production. Doesn’t make much sense.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      Update: I’ve added a video and it looks like they’re spinning pretty good (although I realize that wind is intermittent).

  • http://mportlandhomes.com/ M Realty

    My friend lives in a building on the next block over. I have not seen them yet, but I probably will get a chance to today. Go Portland! I did not even know these were going in until I saw this article.


  • Anonymous

    theyre just about as green as the toilets in the building. they use low volume, double flush toilets. seems good but you have to flush them 3-4 times unless you want to leave the next person a biodegradable surprise!!!

  • Erwin

    I can see these things from where I am studying ENGINEERING and they are absolutely whipping. It doesnt matter how much wind the DOE says is here. One building alone can produce its own drafts simply because one side of it is geting sunlight and the other is in the shade causing pressure differences and thermally equalizing wind currents. Big cities themselve create such complicated wind flows as wind is forced around buildings and unfathamable amounts of heat is produced/released at streat level. There is really no way to tell what the wind will be like aside from gathering empirical data.

  • B Gabriel2010

    Any 2011 updates?

    • Ti Mougne

      I took these photos in late 2009.  Not sure how they’re performing, but they sure look cool!    

  • Peter Lindsay, P.E.

    What this, and other articles fail to mention is the challenge of mounting the turbine’s 40-foot mast to the post-stressed, monolithic concrete roof deck and building structure so that the installation can withstand coastal wind storms and west-coast pacific rim earthquakes.  The attachment must do this while also providing isolation of the building and inhabitants from the inherent vibration noise of the mast excited by wind and disturbances from the spinning blades and alternator.  This was successfully acomplished using a specially designed isolating  mast mount developed and provided by The VMC Group, Bloomingdale, NJ.

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