The WindTree, created by a french company called NewWind, has 54 spinning green ‘Aeroleafs,’ each of which are just over 3 feet tall. The leaves are curved so that even slight breezes can send them spinning around their vertical axes.
Unlike most wind turbines, which start operating when wind speeds hit 9-11 miles per hour, the Aeroleafs can start generating electricity with wind speeds as low as 4.5 mph. NewWind founder and CEO Jerome Michaud-Lariviere calls these breezes ‘micro-turbulence.’
Each leaf has a maximum power generation capacity of 100 watts, giving the tree a total capacity of 5,400 watts. On average, however, a NewWind produce between 1,000 and 2,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year.
Considering that the average residential utility customer in the US consumed 10,932 kWh of energy in 2014, that means a WindTree could provide approximately up to 18% of an American household’s annual electricity.
The WindTree — which is roughly 30 feet tall — is designed to generate electricity for an individual user or function, rather than feed power into a larger grid. Instead, it connects directly to a particular house or system, much like a solar panel. And since it can be placed in close proximity to whatever it power, less of the energy generated gets lost as the electricity travels through the grid.
The WindTree’s design means it’s unlikely that a forest of them would ever be built. But a single tree could be used to power a charging station (for personal devices, bikes, or cars), keep municipal lights on in a public plaza, or be installed on a campus.
NewWind has already installed seven WindTrees throughout Germany, Switzerland, and France. Those initial prototypes were sold to cities and professional organizations. A smaller model for individual users is expected to be available by 2018.