Birds are pretty solidly against windmills but humans on both sides of the wind power debate may soon have a new option to consider, cheer or criticize – high altitude turbines.
Altaeros Energies was founded in 2010 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a mission to develop and deploy the world’s first commercial airborne wind turbine. In late March 2104, the company announced it is ready to break the world record for the highest wind turbine. The record is currently held by the Vestas V164-8.0-MW, a conventional ground turbine built in Denmark with a 460-foot base and blade tips that reach over 720 feet high.
Altaeros Energies’ Buoyant Airborne Turbine or BAT is a helium-filled blimp-like cylinder with the fan blades inside the tube. It is designed to be tethered at high altitudes where winds are stronger, sending the electricity to the ground via wire. For those concerned a bout a blimp being batted about my high winds, the BAT is actually a form of aerostat, the industrial airships used for lifting heavy equipment which are built to survive hurricane-force winds.
In 2013, Altaeros successfully tested a BAT prototype in Maine, reaching a height of 500 feet in 45 mph winds. The record-setting attempt will take place in Alaska near Fairbanks where airborne turbines could someday bring clean power to remote areas. The BAT is expected to reach 1000 feet, breaking the Vestas record by 280 feet.
If successful, the BAT has immediate benefits to many Alaskans. Diesel generators used in remote areas can cost from 35 cents up to $1 per kilowatt-hour, a cost Altaeros says it can reduce to around 18 cents per kilowatt-hour. Since that is still too expensive for conventional use, Altearos plans to market the BAT to isolated towns, military bases, businesses needing temporary power quickly and rescue operations in power-deprived disaster areas.
Buoyant Airborne Turbine sounds like a clean power solution that’s not full of hot air.