Move aside, high-altitude kite turbines and space solar arrays. A company called New Wave Energy UK has an ambitious goal for harvesting solar, wind, and heat energy from 50,000 feet above the surface of the planet, and beaming it back down to earth.
The company wants to pick up where other technologies fail, so focusing on the fact that there is little biodiversity or air traffic at that height and that one device could harvest energy from multiple sources, New Wave Energy UK has come up with a design for drones that each harvest energy, use a bit to power themselves, and send the rest down to use to power our own homes, offices, devices and so on.
New Wave Energy UK states in a press release: "The technology is a wireless solution which will incorporate wireless power transmission from the drones (and their wireless network) to the Earths surface, another new technology developed by multiple bodies in the USA and Japan for energy production using solar satellites. Aerial energy harvesting is in its infancy however does show great promise."
The company is first going to test out its technology on a smaller scape by using it to help in natural disasters by providing energy to search and rescue missions and other emergency services. They will also provide energy to those in need in developing or remote areas. If it works, it could potentially be scaled up to provide power to entire countries.
Gizmag reports that, "Each drone will have four rotors, multiple wind turbines and a flat base for generating solar power. It'll be able to power itself with the harvested energy and generate an additional 50 kW that can be transmitted wirelessly to the ground. Rectenna arrays installed inland or on offshore installations would receive the electromagnetic waves and convert them into usable power."
"At 50,000 ft (15,000 m) there is very little air traffic and biodiversity, unless you go over the Himalayas," company director Michael Burdett tells Gizmag. "Implementing a system in these conditions will not obstruct any existing systems."
Though there are a lot of components, each with the potential to break (and as is the case with many energy sources, a large embodied energy footprint from the get-go), the company is developing a design that could be easily updated. But thousands would be needed for just one "power plant". The upside is that NIMBY is a non-issue since the drones will be miles above the ground.
So would it be easier to do this project, with its myriad of potential problems, or get solar panels on the roof of every building in the US? I'm guessing solar panels on every building might be a more reasonable route, but it's always good to dream big. The potential is certainly there, and it is an exciting endeavor. If the company can get the needed funding, it expects to have a working prototype within six months after receiving the funds.