Designers' concept of Wind-it: vertical-axis turbines inserted within electrical-transmission towers.

Wind turbines aren’t exactly a “next generation” idea, but three French designers have introduced an innovative pairing of wind turbines and preexisting electrical-transmission towers.

Architects Nicola Delon and Julien Choppin, and engineer Raphaël Ménard’s vertical-axis turbines were awarded architecture and design magazine Metropolis‘ 2009 Next Generation prize. This year’s theme was titled: Fix Our Energy Addiction. The group presented a concept they called Wind-it: “egg-beater” turbines loaded onto the core of transmission towers.

“The genius of the proposal is that it solved probably the biggest issue of wind production, which is where to locate these very large structures,” says Alexandros Washburn, New York’s chief urban designer and judge for the competition.

Horizontal-axis wind turbines are the most common, but simply would not work with the awkward angles of preexisting electrical-transmission towers. Vertical-axis turbines would. Placing the turbine within the existing structure also brings the source of power directly to the transmission lines, eliminating lost energy.

Integrative designs such as these truly have a worldwide appeal. Obama’s energy stimulus package allocates nearly $50 billion to energy, most of it renewable; the EU hopes to draw 20 percent of energy from renewable sources within the next decade; and the Chinese government says it will have 100 gigawatts of wind-power capacity by 2020.

There are of course some technical disadvantages which render the design difficult, if not impossible, to implement. First and foremost, transmission towers aren’t built to withstand the additional weight of the turbines. Structural reinforcements could be a costly and complicated necessity. Also, Wind-it’s design stacks turbines from the ground up, with the largest turbine lowest to the ground. As a rule, the higher in the sky, the stronger the gusts of winds. “There is a slight naivete about wind power’s potential in the design,” says Chris Garvin, a partner with the environmental consultancy Terrapin Bright Green, “but it’s compelling nonetheless.”

In places where infrastructure is broken or sparse, the team proposes building new towers that have the dual responsibility of generating wind power and transmitting electricity. This is where designers believe Wind-it would thrive – areas undergoing complete infrastructure design and/or revitalization. Turkey is looking to retrofit its superannuated transmission lines, and China’s $600 billion stimulus plan promises to help with grid infrastructure. Wind-it could play a key role in emphasizing that clean energy is not a luxury but a necessity.

In the United States, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are prime wind harvesting grounds, but transmitting that energy to areas where it is most needed is a obstacle facing any wind-power entrepreneur.