Energy

Flying Windmills

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 12:08 AM EDT

OK, let's end the day with a bit of (potentially) good news: flying turbines. The basic idea is simple: the wind gets stronger the higher up you are, so why not build flying turbines that hover a mile or two above the earth and crank out the megawatts? Gar Lipow looks into the future and explains:

Other factors being equal, the power available from wind is the cube of its speed....A turbine at ten kilometers can generate eight or more times the energy of a turbine at 100 meters. Estimated high altitude energy potential is about 100 times all energy human civilization currently consumes.

....Kites have been used for millennia, balloons for centuries, motorized planes and helicopters for more than 100 years. Put turbines on an automated kite, plane, balloon or helicopter with no human pilot. Run a tether to transmit the electricity to the ground, and in (in many cases) to provide power for the initial launch. The result is a flying energy generator....This is not merely an idea. A number of companies have working prototypes. It has been proven possible, though not yet practical.

The rest of his piece includes a long Q&A that answers most of the obvious questions (Is it safe? What kind of tether do you need? Would it interfere with airplanes?). The video above shows one concept. I would have used this one instead, which looks cooler, but apparently the folks at Joby Energy don't really want anyone embedding their videos. In any case, I for one look forward to our jetstream-powered future.

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