Big Ideas Come in a Small, New Package

You’re probably familiar with the saying: “Good things come in small packages.” Well, some pretty interesting Big Projects come in those small packages. Although small if considered one by one, collectively they could play a key role in our future sustainability.

Now, when I write the next word, you might think “what’s small about that.” Here it is – wind. More specifically, wind energy. To most of us, wind energy projects aren’t small. They create immediate mental pictures of hundreds upon hundreds of tall turbines stretching across a countryside. Their huge propellers slowly spinning to generate power that is put on a grid and sent off to the multitude of homes and businesses depending on that grid.

Credit: Wind Turbine Zone

But wind energy comes in small packages, too. And for that, the adage of good things in those small packages might just be proven true again. The small-wind industry builds wind systems on building rooftops that help to power that same building. The energy isn’t transported elsewhere down a grid. It’s a big idea with a big name – “Building Integrated Wind Turbine.”

This week we feature one of the more fascinating small-wind projects that was recently unveiled at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City. Boasting 18 wind turbines each at 18.5 feet tall, the system has been billed as the largest rooftop wind farm in the world.

The rooftop wind farm on the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation building developed by
Venger Wind
(Credit: Venger Wind)

This big idea in a small package will produce about enough energy to power seven-average sized homes for a year. This kind of project causes excitement because it shows the promise of small-wind systems as an alternative renewable energy source beyond solar at the site it is powering, even in developed cities. Stretches of open space aren’t needed in this scenario; rooftops provide the field.

Indeed, a lot of potential energy savings could be had. Buildings take up 36 percent of our energy,  And that usage is projected to increase. The small wind systems aren’t limited to commercial buildings. They can be used by homeowners too.

Like all good ideas, there are challenges associated with the small wind systems. For example, many don’t produce the amount of energy that the designers predicted for a number of reasons, a result caused by poor placement of the turbines.  But, the industry is working to overcome those hurdles and escalate the learning curve. Indeed, the industry is set to triple by 2015, according to this report.

One person who is bullish on the small-wind industry is Ken Morgan, the Chairman and CMO of Venger Wind. Venger Wind is responsible for building the wind farm on top of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, which is a Big Project we happily highlight in his interview this week. We welcome his thoughts:

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Venger Wind constructed the largest rooftop wind farm in the nation on the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation building in Oklahoma City. How and why was this location chosen?
The owners of the building made the decision to build a green and sustainable building early on. They immediately liked the system due to the fact that it closely matched their logo which is in the shape of a DNA strand.

The new Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation building
(Credit: FLINTCO Constructive Solutions)

How receptive was the community to this project? What methods of communication did you use to inform the community about the project and its progress?
For security and liability reasons, we have a company marketing policy to not promote projects until they are completed, running successfully and ready for prime-time exposure. So far we have received substantial exposure from this project and it is being very well received specifically from the architecture community whom are very interested in BIWT’s (Building Integrated Wind Turbine.) Most of the exposure we are receiving is coming through the blogosphere, social media and search engine channels.

Medical facilities have critical needs for power and equipment that must be kept at or below specific temperatures. Did you encounter any unique challenges with using wind to power a large-scale medical building?
This project produces a small fraction of Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation total needs and was always intended to be a energy and carbon offset rather than a total solution for the building’s energy consumption. They are very committed to supporting the community in which they operate in and this was a very cool way for them to do this as well as be leaders towards a cleaner future.  It also gives their employees and their stakeholders a means to hold a lot of goodwill and pride for the building within their community.

While wind power has been with us forever – think of the explorers in tall ships sailing the world – using wind in today’s world for modern purposes is still relatively new. How has Venger Wind communicated the benefits of sustainability and renewable energy to the public?
When you visit our website you can find a lot of information on the many different aspects of wind power. There is a tremendous amount of education that needs to be done to make the small wind industry truly viable going forward. We are continuously striving to do this through compelling and easy to understand graphics as well as detailed information on the decision-making processes and how or where the turbines work.  Our sales’ teams are also highly informed and have a deep understanding of how to communicate with people new to the concept.  We have taken many pointers on this process from industry leaders such as Quiet Revolution in the United Kingdom and Southwest Wind Power in the United States. These companies are doing a great job educating people about small wind power and we are doing our best to follow suit. It is very important for Venger Wind to give people accurate and timely information and to help them determine if their location is actually viable for wind power or not.

Credit: Navigation acts

What have you found to be the most persuasive or helpful information to the public, customers, and decision makers choosing to incorporate renewable energy into projects?
Clear and honest customer service is the number one method. We do everything we can to get the right technical and financial information to the customer quickly so they can make highly informed decisions. We want every customer to have a very positive experience when they work with us.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, what have you found to be the least helpful in terms of helping the public, customers and decision makers understand and opt for renewable energy?
There are a lot of fly-by-night garage operations out there that are just looking to make a quick buck on a new and exciting concept. We talk with a lot of people that have been burnt. A prime example is the sales pitch that some people unfortunately receive that any turbine can produce significant energy in low wind speeds. This is simply impossible due to the laws of physics.

Part of the funding for the project came from the Puterbaugh Foundation whose namesake is 20th century coal magnate J.G. Puterbaugh. Do you see their support as a transition from one energy sector to another – a passing of the energy torch?
Petroleum based energy will be a important source of energy for a long time and for the time being the clean energy manufacturing industry can not grow without petroleum based energy sources. For example; the Chinese solar industry could not exist in its current scale without the massive amounts of highly subsidized dirty coal they use to produce the ingots which are made into solar cells. The same goes for carbon fiber, aluminum and steel used in wind turbines. I see the clean energy movement as an addition to a diverse portfolio of energy sources.  The demand and growth for energy moving into the future is staggering, we simply cannot abandon one form of energy for another at this point. I have great hope for solar thermal and wind power and I look forward to the day when a solar thermal plant or a large wind farm can produce solar cells and wind turbines from the ground up. Zero carbon manufacturing will be the Holy Grail for clean tech.

Buildings consume 36 percent of our energy. Have you seen public sector, businesses, and developers who occupy and build some of the largest buildings becoming more eager to make the switch to using wind power and other forms of renewable energy to power their buildings? Is there growing pressure from their communities for these entities to become more sustainable?
This is a high growth, multi-billion dollar industry in the making and it is not necessarily driven by the desire to be clean nor from community pressures. It is now primarily driven by the bottom line. It is simply smart business to be highly efficient, it saves tremendous amounts of money in the long run and businesses need to be sustainable to survive global competition. The idea or philosophy of being green, for the time being, is icing on the cake for marketing and branding departments.  Eventually, being clean and green will be the only way it is done or can be done, a de facto standard way of building that is fully integrated into national and international building codes. When you travel to China you quickly notice that everyone uses LED lights and solar hot water heaters, not because it’s cool but because they are cheaper to operate.

Credit: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

What advice would you share about the unique communication needs of renewable energy projects?
Education is number one.  As an emerging industry, we need to be very smart about how we educate and share information.  This is absolutely essential to success.  Without a highly informed consumer base we won’t see the traction that is needed to build the clean tech business. The information we share needs to be 100% honest as well, we exist in a highly transparent and increasingly connected global society and people can find the truth quickly. People can see right through “greenwashing.”

What’s next for Venger Wind?
First, we are highly focused on building a global customer support infrastructure and world-class dealer network.  Training programs are very important right now as well.  Secondly, we have a ton of technical advancements that we are working on that will increase the efficiency of our turbines and decrease costs. We are also working on community scale micro grid designs for small-island communities, which is a very exciting development.

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Thank you Mr. Morgan for contributing this big idea to our blog’s big project theme. There are many energy challenges facing us, and it’s encouraging to know that solutions – big and small – are in the works.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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