Airborne Wind Turbines

The Airborne Wind Turbine is hailed as being superior to the normal wind turbines that we are used to. They are known to harness an energy resource that is totally different to the conventional turbines. They harness the more powerful and consistent winds that are found higher up in the atmosphere. This helps eliminates one of the main issues raised when people talk about wind energy, which is the reliability of the wind.

Another added advantage of this wind turbine is that because it uses this consistent energy source, the operating costs are actually reduced. For example, if you build a wind turbine and then you end up harnessing twice the amount of energy as your had foretasted for the year, the energy would have cost you less for that year.

airborne wind turbine

There are a number of companies out there working on Airborne Wind Turbines and these companies are being very competitive. The companies do work together very well though so they can acquire things such as commercially operated air space where they can test their wind turbines.

Previous predictions have sited the year 2012 as the first year we are going to actually start seeing this type of wind generator in production. They have had interest from the DOE which has put scientist on this project to further look into the viability of this new technology. The has been talk of the Airborne Wind Turbines being able to provide up to 50% of the world’s energy requirements once they become fully operational. We will just have to wait and see now, won’t we?

Why Develop Airborne Wind Turbines?

An abandoned air base in Alameda California was the perfect place for testing this new prototype of a kite like airborne wind turbine. They are motivated by the current race that is on, to find more viable ways to harness energy from the wind. The only problem is that the wind that is found at our level on earth may not be sufficient for producing large amounts of wind power. So like many companies out there, they are now trying to harness wind energy from higher above the surface of the earth.

It is no secret that at the current growth rate of the world’s population we will require huge amounts of power. There are very few sources that can produce huge amounts of power. For example fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Then there is nuclear power, solar power and wind power. Wind is controversial in that, many believe that it is not able to produce the amount of required energy, even with the current wind farms popping up every where.

If you place a modern wind turbine in the right wind conditions it is able to produce a lot of energy. A simple as this may seem currently wind energy only accounts for 2.6% of the energy in the United States. This is because wind blows sometimes and does not blow some other times. The basic forces that affect whether there is wind or not are what is called differential heating. If one place on the earth is hotter than another area, usually wind will be generated. The most powerful winds are found in the area where the tropical air meets the arctic air. The winds tend to die down the further away you go down from these jet streams, as well as being more variable.

Winds tend to be stronger and less variable the higher up you go, which explains why you see wind turbines on wind farms mounted so high up, as high as 100 feet from the ground.

Tethered Wing Airborne Wind Turbine

Makani Wing 7 Airborne Wind Turbine

Makani Power is one of the private companies that is experimenting with kite airborne wind turbines. Their goal is to capture wind energy from even higher altitudes. Their technology is very similar to that of a traditional wind turbine. Instead of having three blades, what they have done is just concentrate on the tip of the wind blades which is the area that helps generate the most energy. While tethered to the ground this tip then flies around in a circle, just the same way as it would have done on a normal wind turbine.

This allows them to reach higher and also circle larger than a conventional wind turbine would. By going higher up they can capture a lot more energy there, even if there is less wind on the ground. The advantage of this type of wind generator would be that there will be more energy being produced at any one time. In theory this type of wind turbine would be able to fly 1000s of feet high and generate as much as twice as much energy consistently. They are currently testing smaller prototypes at lower 500 feet altitudes. They expect their fully tested product to be released by the end of 2015.

There are currently many different types of airborne wind turbines being developed. There are kite based ideas, there are balloons which either have a spinning wind turbine or spin themselves, they are other ideas that look like gyrocopters. It is still anyone’s guess which of these will become main stream. Their ultimate goal is to be able to capture wind from the jet stream which lies almost 30,000 feet above the ground.

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