How would you feel if you knew that massive wind turbines are flying above your head, constantly sending energy to receivers on the ground? Well, if for most of us this is still a hypothetical question, the citizens of Fairbanks, Alaska, will not have to imagine the situation, they will simply live it. The MIT spin-off Altaeros is now sending the first prototype of a floating wind turbine, called Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), which will stay in the air for the coming 18 months.
This news must be extremely good for those, who complain about noise and appearance of wind turbines on the ground. Well, if the tests turn out to be successful, it might well be that soon this becomes the most common mean to harness wind power. The limitations of the technology, however, are still quite a few and before the anti-wind-turbine people start celebrating, it is a good idea to list them.
Firstly, the blimp that contains the turbine is filled with helium, and the makers, unfortunately, don’t state anything about the shortage of the element. And secondly, as good as the idea might seem, the price of the energy transmitted by the BAT will be at least three times higher than that coming from conventional ground-based wind turbines.
But the guys from Altaeros are very optimistic about it. If we assume that they have found a solution to supply unlimited amounts of helium, then the only problem that remains is related to cost. Their plan is to send the floating turbines in the air above highly remote areas, where the cost of electricity is much higher, hence this energy will be competitive and could be sent directly to the local grid. The team also points out that at 1,000-2,000 feet, the altitude at which the wind turbine will float, wind is constant and much stronger, guaranteeing that energy will be produced. In addition, the technology presents much smaller danger to birds, since not many fly at such heights.
The guys are now putting $1.3 million towards the technology, only in order to conduct the tests, but if successful, it would be a good and very clean alternative to off-grid diesel generators, that are quite common in many parts of the world.
Image (c) Altaeros