A $100,000 federal government grant is going to pull some strings in the wind energy sector, according to Mark Moore, an aerospace engineer at NASA. He envisions harvesting power from high altitude winds, where the intensity is huge compared to the one on the ground, that current wind mills produce.
The Systems Analysis Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center is Moore’s workplace, where he studies the different innovative ideas that come to his knowledge, and works with the federal government to implement them.
The main issue, as Moore says, is the airspace that has to be shared with our current transportation needs. Small companies are unable to decide over where certain air routes are going to circulate, this being a rather governmental concern.
“Airspace is a commodity,” Moore said. “You have to be able to use airspace without disrupting it for other players. Smaller aircraft are still going to need to fly around. Larger airplanes, you can’t expect them to fly around every wind turbine that has a two-mile radius as a protected flight zone.”
The stakes are high. If, for example, a conventional wind turbine can generate 500W of power at ground levels, a high-altitude wind harvester could generate much, much more:
“At 2,000 feet (610 m), there is two to three times the wind velocity compared to ground level,” Moore said. “The power goes up with the cube of that wind velocity, so it’s eight to 27 times the power production just by getting 2,000 feet (610 m) up, and the wind velocity is more consistent.”
Send turbines farther aloft, into the 150 mph (240 kph) jet stream at 30,000 feet (9,150 m), and “instead of 500 watts per meter (for ground-based wind turbines), you’re talking about 20,000, 40,000 watts per square meter,” Moore said. “That’s very high energy density and potentially lower cost wind energy because of the 50-plus fold increase in energy density.”