Eiffel Power

Eiffel Power

Renowned worldwide for its signature silhouette, the Eiffel Tower is synonymous with the city of Paris, France. When a renovation project required two wind turbines to be added within the landmark’s frame, project managers were able to install them while keeping the tower’s iconic figure intact.

And that wasn’t the only unique project accomplishment. Stakeholders from the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE) and the office of the Mayor of Paris also made it clear that the turbines couldn’t be lifted with cranes, which could damage the 126-year-old tower. In addition, the project needed to accommodate the flow of revenue-generating tourists during business hours. This meant the team needed to find ways to do the most intrusive work at night—without disturbing residential neighbours.

The project was part of a two-year, €30 million renovation that was also charged with adding LED lighting and solar panels to the first floor of the tower. The turbines were required to generate only enough energy to power the tower’s first-floor commercial areas, which include a restaurant, a gift shop and a historical exhibit. Although the total is less than 1 percent of the overall energy that the tower consumes in a year, it helps nudge Paris toward a citywide goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 75 percent by 2050.

The project is part of multiple green initiatives in France less than a year before Paris is scheduled to host the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in November and December.

In March, France introduced a law that requires plants or solar panels to be installed on the rooftops of new buildings in commercial zones. “Not many people are able to work on this kind of turbine,” says Sébastien Reinier, project manager, SETE. For the wind turbine installation project, stake-holders turned to green energy company UGE International, based in New York, USA. UGE helped determine the right location, style and colour for the turbines, then developed overnight work shifts so that equipment and materials could be manually lifted 122 metres above ground where the two five-metre turbines were installed. Components that wouldn’t fit in the service elevators were brought up by pulley and rope at night rather than by crane.

Tourist expectations also played a major role in defining UGE’s project plan. Seven million people visit the Eiffel Tower each year—and stakeholders didn’t want a single one to be turned away during construction. The attraction is open to the public until 11 p.m. or midnight, depending on the time of year, and the team needed to make its presence as unobtrusive as possible. Although workers could be operating on the tower during the day, major equipment had to be hauled to the area and up the installation site only after the tower was closed. “Working at night was planned into the budget, since the Eiffel Tower already does most of its tough-access work at night,” Mr. Gromadzki says. “Night work is obviously more expensive, but as long as it’s in the budget and the timelines are not exceeded—and they were not in this case—it doesn’t affect expectations.”

Stakeholders were also concerned the turbines would cause disruptive vibrations because they were mounted right above one of Paris’ classiest restaurants, which is located on the second level of the tower. To mitigate the possibility of loud or odd vibrations from the turbines during strong winds, UGE added damper pads in the structure’s steel foundation. “Now the turbines are as quiet as a whisper,” Mr. Gromadzki says.

Mr. Gromadzki, who is fluent in French, largely oversaw the project from his New York office. To avoid budget creep, he reviewed the project status every two weeks at first, and then he reviewed it weekly during the final three months—often with other team members. During the initial planning phases, Mr. Gromadzki says UGE spent hours in phone meetings with tower and construction officials fielding questions about how the turbines—and the installation process—would work. Because very few wind turbines are constructed in Paris, it took time for the stakeholders to understand and approve the logistics.

The project team also needed to collaborate with safety inspectors—consultants who made sure the installation was built to code and per the plan—plus general contractors and subcontractors. These partnerships also helped UGE hire project talent with specialized skills. For instance, when UGE needed to hire installation workers who could navigate hard-to-access spaces, local contacts recommended specialized technical teams, including some who had been part of teams that painted the tower in the past.

Overall, careful planning allowed the team to stay on schedule—and on budget. The only piece of the project that incurred additional costs was the electrical work. Because the French electrical contractors had no experience working with wind turbines, they needed to bill for extra time while UGE taught them where to tie the turbines into the Eiffel Tower’s electrical grid. Nonetheless, the entire project stayed within 10 percent of its original cost.

“Everything pretty much went as planned once all materials were on-site, and many things could have brought us to a halt—but nothing really did.” In the end, the team delivered everything the stakeholders required while staying within project constraints, Mr. Reinier says.

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