Image via IO9
The Kites, Blimps, and Copters that Could Power the World
Tapping into the jet stream--the fast-flowing air currents in the atmosphere--to harness high speed wind power is one of the most compelling ideas in the renewable energy world. How compelling, you ask? Some researchers figure that by successfully tapping into just 1% of the jet stream, we could power all of civilization. At about 6 miles up, the jet stream creates some 200 trillion watts--world energy demand is estimated to be between 2 and 2.5 trillion--the problem, of course, is bringing that stuff down to earth.
Here are the 5 most promising high altitude wind power projects designed to do exactly that.
1. Sky WindPower: Giant Helicopters in the Sky
One of the oldest entries in the quest to tap the jet stream, Sky WindPower's Flying Electric Generator was one of Time magazine's best inventions of 2008. The craft rises like a helicopter from the ground, drawing power from a ground source. Steady winds then keep it aloft, the blades spin like autogyres, and power is sent back down a tether. Here's a video of the test run for the small, 15 ft version of this 'rotorcraft':
Each rotor pictured has a diameter of 35 ft, helping the FEG to steadily capture 240 kW of electricity--at least four times as much as a ground based wind turbine. It's designed to soar to heights of 15,000 ft or higher. Find more detailed information at the company's (mildly confusing) website: Sky WindPower.
2. Magenn Floating Wind Turbines: Heading for MARS
Another classic high altitude wind power generator design, the Magenn Air Rotor has been piquing interest for years now. Its simple concept has drawn widespread acclaim--the Rotor stays afloat via helium, and makes use of the Magnus effect. The company explains: "For the Magnus airship and hence the patented Magenn Air Rotors System (MARS), we have proven that as wind speed increases, rotation increases, lift increases, drag will be minimized because of reduced leaning, and stability increases."
Magenn has designed both single home wind rotor units, and much longer, blimp-sized rotors for industrial power use. These are nearing viability, and full-sized test models of the 30 ft Air Rotor have been successfully floated. It's capable of generating 100 kW, while the smaller rotor does 4. Both are a ways off from the jet stream--they're designed to float some 1,000 ft in the air. But they're making strides, and a success with MARS could lead to higher aspirations.