From: Dave Levitan, Yale Environment360
Published September 26, 2012 05:35 AM

Update - High Altitude Wind Energy Potential

A host of start-up companies are exploring ways to harness the enormous amount of wind energy flowing around the earth, especially at high altitudes. But as these innovators are discovering, the engineering and regulatory challenges of what is known as airborne wind power are daunting.


The wind turbines that increasingly dot the landscape peak at around 300 feet above ground, with the massive blades spinning a bit higher. The wind, however, does not peak at 300 feet. Winds are faster and more consistent the higher one climbs, maxing out in the jet streams at five miles and above.

With conventional wind power facing a litany of obstacles — intermittency, space requirements, not-in-my-backyard complaints — pushing wind power up into the atmosphere could take a lot of uncertainty out of the equation. And despite a host of technical and regulatory challenges, a growing number of small companies are working hard to get up there within the next few years, with numerous designs and ideas aimed at harvesting wind power high in the sky.

"The potential is incredibly high," says Cristina Archer, an associate professor of ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware. Archer and a colleague published one of two recent detailed analyses of the total energy that could be extracted from the planet's winds to generate electricity. The other was conducted by well-known climate scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University. Both found an effectively unlimited supply of power, with vastly more available as one moves up away from the ground.

Makani Power (California) employees prepare a fixed-wing, airborne wind-power generator for flight. Two recent studies have said that the potential of airborne wind-power technologies is enormous, as wind speeds are far faster at higher elevations. But many technical and regulatory challenges remain. (Makani Power)

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