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Airborne Wind Turbines?, posted in Inventions, Wind Power, Wind Turbines.


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Airborne Wind Turbines?

News » Energy | Biofuels | Environment | Hydrogen | Solar | Transportation | Wind
June 16th, 2010 - View Comments

Airborne Wind Turbine Yes, the day is not far off when reaching for sky is the new motto for generating cost-effective renewable energy. Initially it was considered to be technically non-viable to tap high-altitude winds. But today, technically-advanced materials and innovative computer know-how are giving new life to this scheme with innovative autonomous aerial structures using wind energy to generate power.

Joby Energy, Inc. model:
Joby Energy Inc., exploring wind turbine technology, has developed a computer-controlled multi-winged kite-like structure which floats around 2000ft height for generating power. Mr Bevirt is the inventor of this aerial kite. The DC power generated is transferred to ground through tether to a ground station to be converted to AC power ready for consumption via a power grid.

Advantages of high altitude wind turbines:
Extolling the virtues of these autonomous aerial power generators, Mr. Bevirt said, “Operating at five times the height of a conventional turbine increases both wind speed and consistency resulting in more power, more often.” Professor William Moomaw, Director, Centre for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University, Massachusetts, agreed, “The higher speeds at the greater altitudes should produce significantly more electricity.”

Mega source up above:
Actually statistics is strongly in favor of these air-borne wind turbines because globally tropospheric winds carry nearly carry potential to produce 870 terawatts of energy whereas our total demand put together is only 17 terawatts. Along with Joby Energy Inc., other companies like Kitegen focusing on power kites, Magenn Power’s Air Rotor System called (MARS) with a helium filled blimp design and Sky WindPower with flying electric generators are trying to tap this mega source to produce clean and cost effective power.

Tread with care:
US Federal Aviation Administration has asked the flying altitudes restricted to 2000 ft or less in spite of the potential to reach heights up to 35,000. Also Professor Mick Womersely, Director of Sustainability, Unity College, Maine, expressed the obvious concerns about possible hazards and reliability of these prototypes.

Reassurance about safety:
Mr. Bevrit confirmed about the safety measures like ability to ground the turbines in gale-force-type winds, multiple motor designs to circumvent motor failure and on-board stand-by batteries to land the system in case of tether malfunction. He assured that road-testing in sparsely-populated areas with good strong wind is being planned and all safety measures will be paid attention to.

Joby Energy’s aim:
Joby Energy aims to create enough systems to power 150 homes (about 300kW) and move on to larger systems producing 3MW or more. In Mr. Bevirt’s words, “Our goal is to deploy airborne wind turbines globally to produce cheap, consistent, and abundant electricity for a prosperous planet.”

What do you think?

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  • Joe Wilder

    It is becoming increasingly apparent that there really is enough alternative clean energy sources to power our planet abundantly.

  • BreathontheWind

    Such mobile power devices may also have military applications for temporary power. This would then also provide another source of funding.

    A concern (or an advantage) Of such tethered structures is the potential pathway they would provide for lightning. This is being separately pursued as a source of power, but eventually the two applications may have to be combined in some way. Nice article, but a bit too short.

  • http://www.low-powerdesign.com John Donovan

    “…globally tropospheric winds carry nearly carry (sic) potential to produce 870 terawatts of energy”– Before we get too excited here, wouldn’t tapping the total energy of tropospheric winds entail stopping them altogether? This is a fun idea to pursue but let’s put it in perspective.

  • Wendell Ellison

    Wow! Has this at least been demonstrated on a small scale, or is it still just on the “drawing board”?

    How is it suspended in the air – cables and wind resistance, similar to a kite? Or, more along the lines of a lighter-than-air ship? If it is the former, what happens if the wind abruptly stops? Will this apparatus come crashing down to the ground?

  • BreathontheWind

    “Wow! Has this at least been demonstrated on a small scale, or is it still just on the “drawing board”?

    How is it suspended in the air – cables and wind resistance, similar to a kite? Or, more along the lines of a lighter-than-air ship? If it is the former, what happens if the wind abruptly stops? Will this apparatus come crashing down to the ground?”

    There are at least 4 different designs all consider a sudden lack of wind differently: Self powered with back up, gas filled lighter than air turbines, gas filled rotating balloons, kites that run out the tether (spinning a generator) and are pulled in again.

    Other than lightning and high winds, there is a potential conflict with aviation.

  • jojo

    How can this thing efficiently tap into the very wind that keeps it aloft ?
    I don’t expect to see flying power plants any time soon.

  • http://www.aweconsortium.org/ PJ

    Some Airborne Wind Energy companies have demonstrated airborne wind energy conversion systems (AWECS) on a small scale. There will be more this year. See http://www.awec2010.com/public/views/pages/presentations.php

    It is not necessary to tap all of the energy in the winds to supply the planet’s power needs. 15 terawatts was the approximate total global power consumption in 2004.

    Studies have been done to address the question of how much high altitude wind energy could be tapped without affecting climate. Tapping approximately 1% of the available power in these winds is expected to have a negligible effect. Add that together with all the other renewable power source capture methods that are available and there should be no worries about electric power availability in the future even without fossil fuels.

    Availability of fresh water is more likely to a limiting factor than renewable power availability assuming continued population growth.

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