The test of a scaled-down prototype of a new type of floating wind turbine that uses a helium-filled shell demonstrated that it not only works as planned, but that it can also produce twice the power of turbines mounted at conventional tower height.
During the test, the Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) was able to climb to 350 feet high, generate considerable power, and then land in an automated cycle. The device uses a helium-filled, inflatable shell to enable it to ascend to high altitudes, which give it access to stronger and more consistent winds than tower-mounted turbines, and the generated power is sent to the ground via tethers, which also hold the device steady
"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. 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." - - Ben Glass, Altaeros CEO
The company says their product could reduce energy costs by up to 65% by harnessing those high altitude winds, and due to the unique design, installation time can be reduced from weeks to just days. The AWT is expected to need only minimal maintenance once installed, and could replace diesel generators at remote sites. Long-term plans to scale up the device for offshore deployment could reduce costs in the offshore wind market.
Altaeros Energies, formed out of MIT, won the 2011 ConocoPhillips Energy Prize, and has also received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California Energy Commission, and the Maine Technology Institute.