Airborne wind turbine could cut energy costs by 65%

Airborne wind turbine could cut energy costs by 65%
Altaeros Energies has announced the successful testing of its airborne wind turbine prototype.

During a demonstration in Maine in the US, the 35ft scale automated device climbed 350ft high, produced power at altitude and landed in an automated cycle. Furthermore, it lifted the top selling Southwest Skystream turbine to produce more than twice the power at high altitude than generated at conventional tower height.

Altaeros, a spinoff from MIT, says the prototype could reduce energy costs by up to 65% by harnessing the stronger winds found over 1,000ft high. Installation time can also be cut from weeks to days, it claims.

The airborne device is designed to have virtually no environmental or noise impact and to require minimal maintenance. Altearos believes it could displace expensive fuel used to power diesel generators at remote industrial, military, and village sites. In the long term, the company plans to scale up the technology to reduce costs in the offshore wind market.

"For decades, wind turbines have required cranes and huge towers to lift a few hundred feet off the ground where winds can be slow and gusty," said company ceo Ben Glass. "We are excited to demonstrate that modern inflatable materials can lift wind turbines into more powerful winds almost everywhere - with a platform that is cost competitive and easy to setup from a shipping container."

The airborne wind turbine uses a helium-filled, inflatable shell to ascend to higher altitudes where winds are more consistent and more than five times stronger than those reached by traditional tower mounted turbines. Strong tethers hold it steady and send electricity down to the ground.

The lifting technology is adapted from aerostats, industrial cousins of passenger blimps that for decades have lifted heavy communications and radar equipment into the air for long periods of time. Aerostats are rated to survive hurricane-level winds and have safety features that ensure a slow descent to the ground.

Altaeros is currently seeking partners to join its effort to launch the first commercially available high altitude wind turbine in the world.

Laura Hopperton

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