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Steel

Heavy metal

By Lynn Stanley

Energy company uses steel to anchor wind turbines to the Eiffel Tower

April 2015 - The European Wind Energy Association, a major player in the energy market, will hold its annual conference and exhibition in Paris this November. Last year, the Eiffel Tower made its own step toward greener energy consumption when the environmental consultant for the iconic structure approached New York City-based Urban Green Energy International Ltd. about the feasibility of installing two wind turbines on the tower’s 126-year-old iron framework. The project was part of plans to give the 986-ft. Eiffel Tower its first significant makeover in 30 years. 

“We had to perform in-depth structural analysis to verify seamless integration between the turbines and the tower’s existing edifice,” says Jan Gromadzki, engineer for UGE. “Turbines produce minimal vibrations but resonance frequencies can sometimes affect the supporting framework.”

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Low profile

UGE designed and built two 17-ft. VisionAIR5 vertical axis wind turbines made of steel and composite materials. The turbines sit on a steel foundation with structural steel reinforcements consisting of I-beams, and a cut steel plate was fabricated to minimize assembly deflections and resonance. Anti-vibration pads were sandwiched between steel components under the baseplate.

The metal foundation for the curved, tri-blade turbines was then welded to the tower’s iron latticework and painted to match the monument’s current color. Installed in January, the new brown-grey addition sits demurely above the Eiffel Tower’s second-level Jules Verne restaurant, some 400 ft. above street level.

“We designed the steel foundation to withstand wind turbine loads and vibrations from wind speeds up to 110 mph,” says Gromadzki. 

Installation took three weeks. Gromadzki says it took one week to haul components to the tower’s second level using ropes, cables and winches. “The Eiffel Tower does not allow lifting equipment such as cranes,” he says, noting that special rigging was used for heavier parts but that the structural reinforcements were small enough to travel by service elevator. Turbine assembly and electronics installation took two weeks. With the finesse of mountain climbers scaling L'Alped'Huez, the installation crew braved high winds, rain and snow to perform the work. “The team’s members were incredibly skilled,” says Gromadzki. “Everything went very smoothly.”

Installation activities also had to be performed at night he adds, due to operational hours which keep the Eiffel Tower open to the public until 11 p.m. seven days a week.

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Clean and green

The wind turbines are expected to generate about 10,000 Wh per year, enough to power the tower’s first-floor retail shops and restaurants or support the energy requirements of an average American home for a year. 

Gromadzki says the clean energy generated by the turbines isn’t enough to feed the tower’s appetite of 6.7 GWh a year but adds that the real power rests in the installation’s ability to educate the nearly 7 million visitors that visit the site each year about sustainability and advancing energy technology.  

The Eiffel Tower is no stranger to symbols, the essence of which can be traced back to its roots. Gustave Eiffel designed and built the tower for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. His first step following acceptance of his design was to found a company that specialized in metal structural work. Some 7,000 metric tons of puddling iron—a precursor to construction steel—was used. 

Construction of the monument, which weighs 10,100 tons, took two years, two months and five days with 300 steel workers dedicated to the labor. Then a symbol of technological achievement, the tower and its 15,000 pieces of iron and 40 tons of paint was only intended to stand for 20 years. Anxious to preserve the tower, Eiffel instead encouraged scientific research. The observation station in the peak of the tower was used to measure wind speed, a study that was followed by experiments for the first radio transmissions and the first telecommunications efforts.

Intrigued by the field of meteorology, Eiffel continued his research into the effects of wind and air resistance. His work helped to form the bones of a science that would later be called aerodynamics—a significant contributor to military and commercial aviation and rocket technology.

“The Eiffel Tower has a long record of being at the forefront of innovation,” Gromadzki says. “It’s exciting for UGE and its wind technology to forge the latest link in its chain of historical events.” FFJ

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