In my previous Faceoff post I pitted two foods against one another, and gradually worked backwards to contrast the two attitudes that produced them.
The foodies among you can skip to the end for your daily dose of delicious, because today I’m all business.
It’s not everyday that we’re presented with not one, but two alternatives to a renewable energy technology. Forget solar for a moment; many of today’s most fascinating innovations are happening in Wind Power.
I’d like to introduce you to 4Sphere and Vortex Bladeless. For anyone familiar with a ‘traditional’ wind farm, the design each team employs looks much more exotic and beautiful. It’s easy to make the mental leap from 1 to 2. “Since we’re so good at making ‘traditional’ propellers, why not simply make them really large and mount them 200 feet in the air? Who cares if they’re loud and expensive… you wanted wind power, now you’ve got wind power.”
But how can we go from 1 to 100? Both 4Sphere and Vortex Bladeless answered this question in unexpected ways:
4Sphere: “What would happen if we tried to create a turbine that completely eliminated the primary problem facing current turbines? What would happen if we could entirely remove wake turbulence?”
Vortex Bladeless: “What would happen if we created a wind power system that turned the ‘problem’ of wake turbulence into an advantage?”
The contrast between the two teams’ approaches cannot be overstated, and yet their potential benefits are both remarkably similar and extremely promising:
- Beautiful design, blends into any environment
- No birds were harmed in the creation of this energy
- Virtually silent during normal operation
- Much lower cost compared to traditional wind turbines
- Smaller geographic footprint per turbine
Oh, and did I mention that each design is beautiful?
No matter how important beauty may be, none of us will ever experience wind power generated from either 4Sphere or Vortex Bladeless unless we demand it. The real test is not whether you can go from 1 to 100, impressive as that may be. The challenge is going from 0 to 1. The timing has to be right, the demand has to be high, team members have to be right for each other… and the technology has to produce a benefit to the end user of at least 10x.
And yet, can beauty be counted towards that 10x benefit? Examples of poor design and even cruel design are almost too numerous to list, and sometimes I believe we’ve fooled ourselves into numb acceptance, thinking “that’s just the way it is.”
What’s most tragic is that we often accept ugliness in the products we use every day, unless the product looks so horribly bad that it generates bad press for years to come. Then it’s a black eye on a company’s bottom line.
Could ‘traditional’ wind turbines ever be considered a black eye? Is it enough that this is the current ‘standard’ by which all other wind power systems are measured? If we’ve convinced ourselves that traditional wind turbines are an A+, when objectively they’re really a C-, would we recognize excellence even if it came up and kissed us on the lips?
Here’s what it really boils down to: Who is the end user? If the end user is anonymous and located far away from the source of power generation, then ugliness doesn’t matter. If no one will ever see it, then who cares what it looks like?
But what if all of us are the end users? Both 4Sphere and Vortex Bladeless can produce power on the micro and macro levels, meaning you could install a unit in your front yard, at your child’s school, in your favorite park, even lining the roofs of buildings throughout your hometown. If we’re creating something that is designed to be seen every day, I propose that designing it to be beautiful is essential for our health and well-being. Make it something so attractive, something people will do anything to see, and suddenly building something ugly becomes much, much harder.
So who wins our Faceoff today? If 4Sphere and Vortex Bladeless gain widespread acceptance, we all win. How can you help?
- Crowdfunding for Vortex Bladeless begins on June 1st
- Follow each of them on Facebook here and here
- Do not, I repeat, DO NOT settle for poor design!
This is not a matter of “time will tell.” It’s up to all of us to tell power companies what we want and deserve. I dream of the day when I see 4Sphere and Vortex Bladeless units dotting the landscape across the country, when Wind Powder becomes decentralized and everyone can generate the power they need at cents per kWH.
The dream is real, if we want it.
When I’m not dreaming of disrupting public utilities, I’m planning the menu for a party. And there’s no party food better than paella. Along with Vortex Bladeless, you can add paella to my shortlist of things I love about Spain. Enjoy!