The transition to clean energy is a source of inspiration for companies and investors and is driving innovative approaches to basic resource provision. One notable example is the ‘Wind Tree’ system being installed in cities in France.

Innovations Underpinning the Transition to New Energies

The energy sector is nowadays attracting a number of investors who are burnishing their social responsibility credentials by getting involved in clean energy development projects, along the lines of major Silicon Valley players and private sector firms supported by state-sponsored R&D. The number of patents filed for solar and wind power systems continues to increase, demonstrating that there is genuine interest in innovation in the renewable energy sector. Meanwhile several young companies are looking especially to give new momentum to wind power technology in the context of the overall ‘smart cities’ movement, taking a new approach and placing wind power in a new physical setting.

New approaches to wind energy

Recently a number of French companies have been working on innovative wind energy technologies. One example is l’Arbre à Vent (‘Wind Tree’) developed by NewWind, based on a novel patented wind power system called Aeroleaf. The installation, which really looks like a tree, is actually made up of 70 steel leaves that channel energy from all types of wind.  The leaves function as mini wind turbines, capturing airflows in urban environments which are used to generate electric power for city infrastructure. The Eole Water company has come up with an even more novel approach – making water from the air.  The company – which received a special mention in the ‘Innovation in Technology’ category from the jury of the Enterprises and Environment Awards 2013 organised by the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy – has invented the first wind turbine able to distil drinking water from the humidity in condensed air for the use of populations in remote areas.

Serving cities and their inhabitants

These energy innovations are intended to be of direct and immediate use to people.  Constructing an attractive-looking wind power generation unit designed to be installed in the heart of the city close to where people live represents a real advance in the transition to new energy sources. The first two Wind Trees – installed in Charente-Maritime in South-West France and Brittany in the North-West of the country – have met with an enthusiastic welcome from the residents. A third prototype is due to be installed in Paris to power electric vehicle recharging stations. Meanwhile Eole Water has been conducting tests on its wind-water system in the United Arab Emirates close to Abu Dhabi in order to see how it performs under extreme weather conditions. Results have been positive and the quality of the water produced was judged to be superior to basic World Health Organisation standards.

By Eliane HONG
Journalist