Wind farms could become a thing of the past if a blimp-like power generator takes off.
Altaeros Energies, a U.S wind energy company formed out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced that it has successfully generated energy from 350 feet up with an automated prototype of its airborne wind turbine (AWT).
The completed commercial version would rest at 1,000 feet, where winds are stronger and more consistent, according to Altaeros Energies.
The company reports that AWT achieved several key milestones.
It lifted a top-selling turbine to produce over twice the power at high altitude than generated at conventional tower height and landed again in an automated cycle.
The turbine was successfully transported and deployed into the air at Loring Commerce Center in Limestone, Maine, from a towable docking trailer.
Altaeros says that because its product would harness higher-altitude winds – up to five times stronger than those reached by tower turbines – it would reduce energy costs by up to 65 per cent and reduce installation time from weeks to days.
In addition, it is designed to have virtually no environmental or noise impact and to require minimal maintenance.
The Altaeros AWT will displace expensive fuel used to power diesel generators at remote industrial, military, and village sites.
In the long term, Altaeros plans to scale up the technology to reduce costs in the offshore wind market.
‘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,’ explained Ben Glass, the inventor of the AWT and Altaeros Chief Executive Officer.
‘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.’
The AWT uses a helium-filled, inflatable shell to ascend, with strong tethers holding it steady and sending electricity down to the ground.