San Francisco Department of the Environment

Case Study: Wind Power in the Castro

“I didn’t even think this could happen,” said Chris Beaudoin, as he stood between two wind turbines on the roof of his garage.

Beudoin said he called up the City’s Department of Environment, which passed along the names of urban wind companies operating in San Francisco. Chris ultimately settled with Blue Green Pacific, run by local engineer and designer Todd Pelman. Beudoin said he decided to work with Blue Green Pacific since “it was the most open, and they are SF based.”

Blue Green Pacific installed two of its second-generation vertical-axis wind turbines on Beudoin’s roof. Beudoin calls them kinetic sculptures. Since installation, Beudoin says, “the neighborhood is going nuts. Everyone wants to know if I’m connected to the grid and how it produces power.”

Beudoin isn’t pumping energy back into the grid just yet. Blue Green Pacific is using this installation, and another on Pelman’s house in Bernal Heights, to field test its latest system design. Unlike “horizontal-axis” turbines, which have the propeller design familiar to most people, Blue Green Pacific’s “vertical-axis” turbines are a relatively new approach to turbine design. The idea, says Pelman, is as much about aesthetics and education as it is about generating energy.

On a windy day, Beudoin said, his turbines spin so fast they’re a blur. But high speeds can pose a tough design challenge. Urban turbines have to withstand the strongest gales, but they also have to perform in light winds. How are Beudoin’s turbines performing so far? Pelman says the next step in their development is to collect wind-speed data, work on next-generation turbines and controllers, and secure venture funding to expand operations.

Though Blue Green Pacific’s current technology costs around $4,000 to $5,000 per turbine, Pelman hopes to bring the cost down to $2,000 per system and aims to produce between 200 and 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year in favorable winds. “Our goal isn’t only about making energy – it’s about trying to teach people about energy.”