The Quest To Harness Wind Energy At 2,000 Feet

Oct 13, 2014

Image courtesy Altaeros

By Erik Sofge

Nothing about the grooved, inflatable body taking shape inside Greentown Labs in Somerville, Massachusetts, resembles a wind turbine. It looks more like a jetliner’s emergency ramp, or something you’d tie behind a boat and cling to desperately while bumping across the surface of a lake. But the 14-foot-long structure most resembles what it actually is–an air-filled wing.

To be more precise, it’s a stabilizing fin, part of a tube-shaped, robotic airship designed to tap the power of high-altitude winds. The blade tips of today’s tallest conventional wind turbine, installed at a test center in Denmark this year, stretch to 720 feet. The fully autonomous, lighter-than-air BAT (short for buoyant airborne turbine) will climb as high as 2,000 feet, where winds blow stronger and steadier.
“There is more than enough energy in high-altitude winds to power all of civilization,” says Ken Caldeira, a Stanford University climate scientist, who co-authored a 2012 study that ballparked the potential at 1,800 terawatts–more than four times the estimate near the surface. “The question is whether technologies can be created that can reliably and affordably extract it.” Altaeros Energies, the company behind that BAT, is poised to prove that it’s already done so.

Provided, of course, the vehicle hasn’t sprung a leak. “We’ve been meaning to do this for a while,” says Adam Rein, the company’s lead director and co-founder, over the buzz of the air compressor. The fin had been pulled from storage, where it had been sitting deflated since test flights several months before. “We’re trying to understand how durable the material can be,” Rein says. “We have a vision of putting out a product that you could deploy, leave there for a year or two, pack down, and move to a new site or a new customer.”


 

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23 comments on “The Quest To Harness Wind Energy At 2,000 Feet

  • Hopefully these might help to answer our energy needs because land based wind turbines are a busted flush. In Scotland they are all over the landscape as ugly giant monuments to futility, they actually make the electricity we get more expensive as the Hydro stations have to be kept running at 80% of maximum (All has to be paid for) in case the wind don’t blow. The grid are forced to purchase wind generated electricity and also bear the cost of the standby, which all ends up on our bills.
    Thanks the green lobby, I’ll be sending you an invoice.



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  • The Quest To Harness Wind Energy At 2,000 Feet

    I’m not sure how long these will last exposed to wind, strong UV sunlight, and the stresses of carrying heavy generators and cables.

    2,000 is not very high up, and that altitude can be found on may mountains where the wind is channelled and intensified by the terrain.



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  • It would avoid birds. It would get maximum wind. Buildings, trees, hills would not block the wind. It might even be high enough you cannot hear it. You would probably not need to buy any real estate.



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  • That’s fine Gus, you send us your invoice for the green energy and I’ll send you an invoice for the destruction the non-renewable have caused, over the decades we have know it was an issue we needed to deal with and did not, and we’ll send the invoice to your children and your children’s children and their children and so forth until we fix this mess up. I know who’ll come out ahead. Oh and while you’re at it I’ll have back all the subsidies the non-renewables have had over the decades. How about you also compensate all the families that lost loved ones for decades of exposure to coal dust and the associated respiratory diseases, and all those that in cities suffer from exposure to respiratory diseases due to the burning of fossil fuels. I’m sorry Gus, it’s going to cost you a significant amount because we now need to do this in a rush to mitigate the worst of climate change. It could have been a gentle and less expensive transition over the last 3 decades and have mitigated the 2 degrees of warming we are now committed to because no-one wanted to do anything for decades. And as for your ugly comment try looking at a 200 square kilometre open cut coal mine. I’ll take the turbines any-day.



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  • Hi Alan,

    You’ll still have wind gradient to contend with on mountains. This is the effect they are trying to avoid. It is significant pilots need to be very careful approaching landing as the friction with the ground, trees, fields, buildings all slows the wind relative to the approaching aircraft. While say a gilder pilot with no ability to power on and go around or extend their approach will have established a certain glide angle, when the pilot descends below 300ft or so the wind gradient goes up and the wind-speed decreases relative to the ground. If flying straight and level this will mean a momentary loss of lift until the forces balance. This means the glide path is shortened due to a continual loss of lift as the aircraft goes through layer upon layer of decreasing ground speeds. Essentially they are trying to get about the ground turbulence and wind gradient, putting it on top of a mountain will give greater wind speeds but also more complications with turbulent air.



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  • wind turbines – they actually make the electricity we get more expensive

    Do coal fired power stations have to pay for the disposal of their waste byproducts? Every other industry on the planet has to pay to dispose of their waste and that cost is passed on to consumers. What will the price of coal fired electricity be in comparison to wind turbines when the coal fired power station has to pay for the removal of their waste product.

    In other words. Fossil fuels are heavily subsidized because they don’t pay for the disposal of the waste from their power plants. The moment they do, they will be closed down.



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  • Reckless Monkey Oct 14, 2014 at 4:40 am

    Hi Alan,

    You’ll still have wind gradient to contend with on mountains.

    This is true in general, but the comment I made about where the wind is channelled and intensified by the terrain, referred to the funnelling effect directing wind into a turbine.

    I have seen (but cannot at present find), archaeological references to V shaped wall arrangements with a simple vertical rotor windmill in the gap at the point of the V.
    This works where there is a prevailing wind direction. My concept, is to use natural landscape features where wind is channelled through a gap in hills, for this effect.

    There are modern constructions using this effect on page 19 fig.29 and page20 fig.30 on this link. http://mragheb.com/NPRE%20475%20Wind%20Power%20Systems/Wind%20Energy%20Converters%20Concepts.pdf



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  • Only problem I see, besides it blowing away in a storm, is the danger of low-flying airplanes getting snagged in the tether lines. Would big kites with turbine propellers work too? I remember reading an article on big kite-like sails that normal freight ships could deploy to take advantage of favorable winds, thereby reducing their fuel consumption a bit. How about one of these to power an electric motor for a freight ship?



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  • You miss my point Reckless, of course we need to ditch non renewables, we should of actually started doing it many decades back but what we replace it with needs to work. We could cover the countryside in them and still come up short so what is the point. Spend the billions in taxpayers money that has been wasted making the landowners and the companies that own the turbines rich on something that might actually help rather than a politically correct gesture that patently doesn’t.
    What we need are new technologies that don’t pollute and answer our energy needs not grand gestures that make politicians look good and don’t really help.
    The real trouble is that if we did come up with a way of providing all our energy requirements that you could have in every house, we would never see it because control of access to heat and power is one of the cornerstones of how they control the Hoi Polloi.



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  • Gus Oct 14, 2014 at 10:03 am

    What we need are new technologies that don’t pollute and answer our energy needs not grand gestures that make politicians look good and don’t really help.

    There are many new technologies which are suitable for particular local conditions.

    We discussed some of them here with various links :-

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/09/8-surprising-depressing-and-hopeful-findings-from-global-survey-of-environmental-attitudes/#li-comment-156966

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/06/germany-can-now-produce-half-its-energy-from-solar/#li-comment-147025

    [https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/09/8-surprising-depressing-and-hopeful-findings-from-global-survey-of-environmental-attitudes/#li-comment-157142



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  • My apologies Gus, I took you for a carbonic Luddite.

    I’m not familiar enough with the specifics of wind power in Scotland to comment on their particular effectiveness in your situation. In Australia wind is working out very well for us (in fact it’s kicking coals arse every evening when the southen winds kick in) but it cannot be the only source of power without some other forms of energy to supplement it when the wind is not working. You seem to suggest they are using hydro-power, this makes sense they might also need to consider wave and other methods to help this. My point is ultimately simple though as we agree that we need x number of megawatts of energy to power a country it has to come from somewhere. Coal, gas and oil and even Uranium are not going to last forever so ultimately – climate change aside we will need to use all of these. Whatever it costs us to develop and deploy these is a cost we will ultimately need to pay. Climate change and our unwillingness to begin to adopt these technologies sooner has meant we are having to pay this all at once know (actually not soon enough in my opinion). Ultimately though those wind generators will have actually paid for themselves and will even including maintenance and eventual replacement cost come in at far less than the continued use of coal. The reality is that the price of coal never factored in the massive economic cost of what it was doing to the environment after we have employed a range of technologies solar PV, solar thermal, wave, geothermal, biogas etc, we will know the true cost of a kilowatt of energy. Then we can work on making it cheaper and until then I’m afraid complaining about the cost of one of the forms of alternative energy may be a case of not facing the fact that energy has always been more expensive than we thought and only now are we facing the real cost. I’d be very interested to see the on what basis you say that wind power in Scotland doesn’t work though. Again though genuine apologies for assuming you were a carbonic luddite.



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  • Hi Alan,

    I agree, these even exist at a more local level when you fly in an area a lot you learn to recognise specific local patterns an effects. I remember when learning to fly there would if the wind was blowing say West three spots on the airstrip where you would hit massive sink caused by rotors (rolling air flows caused by air tumbling off the hills) rolling off the hills nearby. You learned to put down before you hit one of them or they would drop you down rather ignominiously.



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  • Would big kites with turbine propellers work too?

    Here

    As far as powering the electric motor you would be introducing drag in the direction of the wind which would have to be overcome by the motor pushing the boat against it. The reason the sails work is because the lift on an aerofoil (think about it on a glider) is forward and up. Competition sail-planes can reach 180mph with no engine because lift over the wings is up and forward, they are sacrificing some height to do so around 40-60m forward per m lost in very efficient gliders. This is obvious if you think about it for gliders but our mindset is often overcome by biases from seeing aircraft with propellers. There is a limit as the resultant lift is effected by induced drag (the amount of rearward facing lift) and the parasitic drag of the aircraft in question. If the rotor is going to stay up there it can only do so by sacrificing some of its energy to behind and up slowing down the boat in the process. Sails can be angled to lift out the side of the direction of wind and create a thrust to the side and forward of the wind flow hence the need to tack in a sail-boat.



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  • Not to mention the enormous amount of other subsidies paid out by both federal and state governments. Not to mention the opportunity costs lost when huge open cut mines destroy hundreds of square kilometres of farmland or ground water is affected by coal gasification as in the case of Cougar Gas in Kingaroy. After the floods a few years back in Queensland the state government gave an enormous amount of support to get the coal infrastructure going again. The irony being that the coal we exported and used locally over decades very probably contributed to the severity of the floods in the first place.



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  • 17
    alaskansee says:

    Gus

    In addition to the other points addressed by commenters I would also disagree with you on whether a wind turbine array is uglier than a coal fired power plant (smog, mining, waste and health effects included of course).

    Sounds like Prince Charles argument about big office blocks, replace them with church steeples.



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  • . Gus
    In Scotland they are all over the landscape as ugly giant monuments to futility,

    It’s easy to be wise in hindsight, but land based wind turbines appeared to be a worthwhile contributor to clean energy. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as a matter of fact. I think they look quite graceful, slowly spinning on the horizon.



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  • Reckless Monkey Oct 14, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I’m not familiar enough with the specifics of wind power in Scotland to comment on their particular effectiveness in your situation.

    The data on Scottish energy and renewables is here:-
    http://www.scottishrenewables.com/scottish-renewable-energy-statistics-glance/

    Chart 4 shows that renewable electricity generation is now equivalent to approximately 46.6 per cent of Scotland’s electricity consumption.



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  • alaskansee Oct 14, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Sounds like Prince Charles argument about big office blocks, replace them with church steeples.

    .. . . and in addition to Charlie, guess what pops up in Google????

    The Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), founded in 2004 by UK TV personality Noel Edmonds,[1] is a United Kingdom-based registered charity with a stated aim of promoting the development of sustainable energy technologies.
    . .
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_Energy_Foundation

    . . .
    Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK, a trade body that represents more than 600 wind and marine energy firms, says the Renewable Energy Foundation’s true purpose is diametrically opposed to the interests of the wind energy industry. “It is an anti-wind lobbying organisation,”



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  • Chart 4 shows that renewable electricity generation is now equivalent to approximately 46.6 per cent of Scotland’s electricity consumption.

    Thanks Alan, just looked through them now. They are doing much better in Scotland than us in Australia by the looks of it, if we were up to that I’d have reason for some hope. Our wind in South Australia is now at about 30%. Canberra Our capital city is installing a massive solar PV station. However our PM just gave a speech stating that ‘Coal is King’. So it we’ll have to wait till the next election cycle or hope he gets his throat cut (by his own party) before the next election which seems to be the normal method of choosing a leader in Australia this last decade or so before we see any change. You might like Tim Flannery and Ann Summers talk (I may have linked to it before). Very good.

    Here

    Cheers



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  • Table 4 also nicely shows the contribution of negawatts, energy efficiency lifting renewable by at least 5%. Investment in energy efficiency closes the gap with renewables. Smart energy efficiency (e.g. mandating peak shaving technology on the grid and local consumers, where the short sharp peaks are accomodated by brief HVAC energy use deferals) further reduces the need for base capacity as does investment in international linking.

    Infrastructure investment can lever far more value out of current wind investment. The job is only half done. The system needs are complex and take time. People are understandably impatient but this is generations (sic) of work.



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  • I see them and think I am in a science fiction movie. I love them. It says we have vision.

    Offshore renewables are expensive at present but with [new infrastructure and turbine technology] this can be greatly ameliorated. (Note the long term invesment needed.) DC Turbines will greatly improve the cost and efficiency of short run under sea cabling and HVDC transmission can create sockets for remote siting of HFAC turbines between say Ireland and the UK with reduced costs and ancillary benefits. Sea water cooled inverters will be greatly compacted over present designs. If only these sure fire but long term bets could be made more attractive than the shorter term higher risk higher return gambles bankers like…

    Scotland i headed for 100% renewable and it loves its onshore wealth generators too-

    A survey conducted in 2005 showed that 74% of people in Scotland agree that wind farms are necessary to meet current and future energy needs. When people were asked the same question in a Scottish renewables study conducted in 2010, 78% agreed. The increase is significant as there were twice as many wind farms in 2010 as there were in 2005. The 2010 survey also showed that 52% disagreed with the statement that wind farms are “ugly and a blot on the landscape”. 59% agreed that wind farms were necessary and that how they looked was unimportant

    ISLES



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