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World's highest wind turbine

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prototype flight.jpg
 
Wind power from an inflatable ring floating 1,000 feet in the air could offer cheap, consistent energy for people living off-grid. 

At SmartPlanet, we’ve covered quite a few super-sized wind energy developments: there was the world’s largest offshore wind farmAfrica’s largest wind farm, giant offshore floating turbines, and there was even the impossibly large wind farm with 543,000-plus turbines to reduce hurricane speeds (not real yet). 

And now here's the highest. MIT spinout Altaeros Energies is launching its high-altitude floating wind turbine over a site south of Fairbanks, Alaska, to bring more affordable power to remote communities, IEEE Spectrum reports

The $1.3 million, 18-month project will deploy the Altaeros Buoyant Airborne Turbine (or BAT, pictured) at a height of 1,000 feet above the ground. It’s the first long-term, commercial-scale demonstration of an airborne wind turbine. Some specifics, from Altaeros:
  • The helium-filled, inflatable (can-shaped) shell lifts the turbine up to high altitudes where it passively aligns with winds that are stronger and more consistent than those reached by traditional tower-mounted turbines. 
  • The turbine itself is a lightweight, conventional three-blade, horizontal axis system that’s fixed within the shell. 
  • High strength tethers hold the BAT steady and send electricity down to the ground. 
  • The shell is tethered to the portable ground station, which includes an autonomous control system and equipment that conditions the power produced by the turbine before it goes out to the microgrid or grid connection. 
  • The lifting technology is adapted from aerostats (the industrial cousin of the blimp), which have been used for decades to lift heavy communications and monitoring equipment into the air. Aerostats are rated to withstand hurricane-level winds and they include safety features that ensure a slow descent to the ground. 
  
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Last year, the company tested a BAT prototype in 45 mph winds and at a height of 500 feet at a test site in Maine. For this new 1,000-foot test, BAT will be over 275 feet taller than the current record holder for the highest wind turbine: Vestas V164-8.0-MW, with a with a hub height of 460 feet and blade tips stretching over 720 feet high. A prototype was recently installed at the Danish National Test Center for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild. Why so high flying and transportable? IEEE explains

Unlike its earth-bound brethren, the airborne turbine is not intended to supply power for large electric grids. Instead, its sweet spot is serving far-flung villages, military bases, mines, or disaster zones.

BAT was designed to generate consistent, low-cost energy for the $17 billion remote power and microgrid market, the company says. Island communities, military bases, telecommunication firms, disaster relief organizations -- which are likely served by expensive diesel generators -- are some target customers. 

The company expects to provide power at about $0.18 per kilowatt-hour, CEO Ben Glass tells The New York Times. That's about half the price of off-grid electricity in Alaska.



— By on March 31, 2014, 8:42 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure