Clean Power

Published on June 16th, 2009 | by Jeff Kart

17

High-Altitude Winds Hold Sky-High Promise for Meeting Electricity Needs

June 16th, 2009 by  

High-altitude winds hold enough energy to power the world 100 times over.

Though harnessing them is another issue.

You’ve heard of commercial wind turbines in farm fields, offshore turbines on the water, even small wind turbines on the rooftops of homes, but high-altitude winds are also being studied as a potential energy source.

The first-ever study of high-altitude winds by the Carnegie Institution and California State University says winds in the jet stream, about 30,000 feet up, would be the ideal source to exploit. And the sky over New York is a prime spot, along with population centers in the eastern United States and East Asia.

Will New York and other cities some day get their gadget juice from tethers attached to the sky? Will this give a new meaning to the “Mile High Club?”

The scientists say you can expect fluctuations, when the wind doesn’t blow, about 5 percent of the time.

Would a kite-type project to harness this energy source be worth the coin? It seems issues with siting, aesthetics and noise (and wildlife?) would be mostly moot. There are still planes to contend with, however.

The study is available online at Energies Open Access Journal.

(Image: A Flying Electric Generator referenced in the study. From skywindpower.com.)


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About the Author

is typing about issues in the Great Lakes, from advanced biofuels to zero-emission vehicles. Jeff is an environmental journalist and social media evangelist based in Michigan, where the summers are short, the winters are cold, and the stories are plentiful.



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  • SamH

    The tether/power cable is a technical problem that gets less problematic as you increase the scale.

    You could even use a hollow tube as a microwave energy guide for near-wireless power transfer.

    The big thing I see as a drawback would be the impact on air travel. The area around the cables would have to be no-fly zones.

  • SamH

    The tether/power cable is a technical problem that gets less problematic as you increase the scale.

    You could even use a hollow tube as a microwave energy guide for near-wireless power transfer.

    The big thing I see as a drawback would be the impact on air travel. The area around the cables would have to be no-fly zones.

  • SamH

    The tether/power cable is a technical problem that gets less problematic as you increase the scale.

    You could even use a hollow tube as a microwave energy guide for near-wireless power transfer.

    The big thing I see as a drawback would be the impact on air travel. The area around the cables would have to be no-fly zones.

  • @Mr. Sinister

    Wireless energy. Good one. Thanks for the comments all. I figured the ‘tether from the sky’ line would generate some discussion.

  • @Mr. Sinister

    Wireless energy. Good one. Thanks for the comments all. I figured the ‘tether from the sky’ line would generate some discussion.

  • Mr. Sinister

    Well, 30,000 feet is most certainly too high for a conventional power transmission cable. It would snap under it’s own weight. And surely no one is going to contruct a 30,000 foot tower on which to place conventional wind turbines. I don’t think our current state of materials engineering is up to a challenge of that magnitude.

    Perhaps a modern, unmanned version of the lighter-than-air ship or a solar-powered glider? New technologies are starting to emerge that might make it possible to harness and deliver the energy collected by such a device back to the ground. Methanogenesis using direct current, for example, could allow electricity to be converted to methane and returned to the ground in storage tanks. Or perhaps one of the new emerging technologies for wireless power transmission using microwaves.

    The key, of course, as with any energy harvesting technology, is whether you can get more out of it than you put into it. Only time will tell, I suppose, but it would be an exciting engineering challenge.

  • Mr. Sinister

    Well, 30,000 feet is most certainly too high for a conventional power transmission cable. It would snap under it’s own weight. And surely no one is going to contruct a 30,000 foot tower on which to place conventional wind turbines. I don’t think our current state of materials engineering is up to a challenge of that magnitude.

    Perhaps a modern, unmanned version of the lighter-than-air ship or a solar-powered glider? New technologies are starting to emerge that might make it possible to harness and deliver the energy collected by such a device back to the ground. Methanogenesis using direct current, for example, could allow electricity to be converted to methane and returned to the ground in storage tanks. Or perhaps one of the new emerging technologies for wireless power transmission using microwaves.

    The key, of course, as with any energy harvesting technology, is whether you can get more out of it than you put into it. Only time will tell, I suppose, but it would be an exciting engineering challenge.

  • Mr. Sinister

    Well, 30,000 feet is most certainly too high for a conventional power transmission cable. It would snap under it’s own weight. And surely no one is going to contruct a 30,000 foot tower on which to place conventional wind turbines. I don’t think our current state of materials engineering is up to a challenge of that magnitude.

    Perhaps a modern, unmanned version of the lighter-than-air ship or a solar-powered glider? New technologies are starting to emerge that might make it possible to harness and deliver the energy collected by such a device back to the ground. Methanogenesis using direct current, for example, could allow electricity to be converted to methane and returned to the ground in storage tanks. Or perhaps one of the new emerging technologies for wireless power transmission using microwaves.

    The key, of course, as with any energy harvesting technology, is whether you can get more out of it than you put into it. Only time will tell, I suppose, but it would be an exciting engineering challenge.

  • Mr. Sinister

    Well, 30,000 feet is most certainly too high for a conventional power transmission cable. It would snap under it’s own weight. And surely no one is going to contruct a 30,000 foot tower on which to place conventional wind turbines. I don’t think our current state of materials engineering is up to a challenge of that magnitude.

    Perhaps a modern, unmanned version of the lighter-than-air ship or a solar-powered glider? New technologies are starting to emerge that might make it possible to harness and deliver the energy collected by such a device back to the ground. Methanogenesis using direct current, for example, could allow electricity to be converted to methane and returned to the ground in storage tanks. Or perhaps one of the new emerging technologies for wireless power transmission using microwaves.

    The key, of course, as with any energy harvesting technology, is whether you can get more out of it than you put into it. Only time will tell, I suppose, but it would be an exciting engineering challenge.

  • Paul

    The entire concept of high altitude wind generation is dependant on the development on till now none-existent technology. These companies all talk glowing about placing a couple of ton of wind turbine at 40,000 feet, that’s 7.5 miles (12 km) worth of large cross sectional power cable in addition to the tons of generator being hosted aloft.

    These things are meant to be litter than air… LOL

    Get in touch with reality, semi permanent stationary observation platforms at that altitude are still in the early development stages, let alone hanging a wind turbine and suspending several tons of cable off one.

  • Paul

    The entire concept of high altitude wind generation is dependant on the development on till now none-existent technology. These companies all talk glowing about placing a couple of ton of wind turbine at 40,000 feet, that’s 7.5 miles (12 km) worth of large cross sectional power cable in addition to the tons of generator being hosted aloft.

    These things are meant to be litter than air… LOL

    Get in touch with reality, semi permanent stationary observation platforms at that altitude are still in the early development stages, let alone hanging a wind turbine and suspending several tons of cable off one.

  • Paul

    The entire concept of high altitude wind generation is dependant on the development on till now none-existent technology. These companies all talk glowing about placing a couple of ton of wind turbine at 40,000 feet, that’s 7.5 miles (12 km) worth of large cross sectional power cable in addition to the tons of generator being hosted aloft.

    These things are meant to be litter than air… LOL

    Get in touch with reality, semi permanent stationary observation platforms at that altitude are still in the early development stages, let alone hanging a wind turbine and suspending several tons of cable off one.

  • Max Kennedy

    This particular high altitude concept is massively flawed. If the generator is at altitude a long heavy conductor is required to transmit the power to the ground. The more power, the heavier is the transmission cable, the more lift is required. High altitude is a feasible energy source but keep the generator on the ground.

  • Max Kennedy

    This particular high altitude concept is massively flawed. If the generator is at altitude a long heavy conductor is required to transmit the power to the ground. The more power, the heavier is the transmission cable, the more lift is required. High altitude is a feasible energy source but keep the generator on the ground.

  • Max Kennedy

    This particular high altitude concept is massively flawed. If the generator is at altitude a long heavy conductor is required to transmit the power to the ground. The more power, the heavier is the transmission cable, the more lift is required. High altitude is a feasible energy source but keep the generator on the ground.

  • Max Kennedy

    This particular high altitude concept is massively flawed. If the generator is at altitude a long heavy conductor is required to transmit the power to the ground. The more power, the heavier is the transmission cable, the more lift is required. High altitude is a feasible energy source but keep the generator on the ground.

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