Experimental wind turbines installed on the rooftop of Boston’s Museum of Science have produced less electricity than predicted, prompting researchers there to urge caution before homeowners mount a turbine on their property.
Installed as part of a green Initiative, five different brands of wind turbines became landmarks on the roof of the Museum of Science in 2009. Four of the five types of turbines have had problems, while all five models underperformed, said Wind Turbine Lab Analyst Marian Tomusiak at the museum.
Over the past year, the turbines collectively produced about 30 percent of the energy the museum had previously projected. The Museum of Science had predicted the turbines would collectively produce enough electricity to power almost two average American homes for one year.
The lab results showed that from October 2009 to October 2010, the turbines only produced 4,514 Kilowatts of energy—equal to 60 percent of the electricity used by a single average American home, according to a study prepared by the lab.
The results reflect variables such as wind patterns, faulty equipment and the added expenses of roof-mounted turbines, explained Tomusiak. Museum of Science Project Manager Steve Nichols said the depressed energy production is attributed to mechanical problems and one turbine that is in a spot with unsteady winds.
“As far as consumers are concerned, there are people selling turbines but they are unlikely to be widely used,” said MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering James L. Kirtley. A turbine that could power one house would need a rotor diameter of about 30 feet, Kirtley explained. “Hard to imagine that in too many backyards in Boston,” he added.
While the museum knew that the experimental turbines would not be “cost-efficient,” one of the purposes of the lab was to record “real world” test results, said Tomusiak.
“There is no hard data on how these turbines perform, and we are willing to release the data to the world,” said Tomusiak.
According to Tomusiak many studies are conducted in wind tunnels and using models, but there is little information on how different style turbines work in the real world.
“This is exactly the kind of testing we need to figure out what exactly works the best,” said Ben Wright, Global Warming Advocate for the Environment Massachusetts.
Though the turbines have had issues in performance, the turbines have killed no birds nor has the museum received complaints about noise pollution or view obstruction, said Tomusiak.
“It’s turned into a test lab for consumers,” said Tomusiak. Each wind turbine feeds live data to the Catching the Wind exhibit downstairs in the museum, where viewers of all ages can learn about wind energy.
“The educational part of it captures the public interest,” said Wright. “It’s more of a public demonstration. The turbines are landmarks.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.
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