Airborne Wind Turbines

Airborne Wind Turbines

The drive to develop sustainable energy sources through harnessing the readily available power of the wind has been a major focus for mankind for centuries, with windmills designed to do just this and reduce the overall manual labor necessary for everyday tasks being established in countries all around the world hundreds of years ago – most notably in northern Europe. Over the years these have moved from the massive land-based structures to being sleek designs capable of being established either on or off shore, having their function change as well from simple physical labor supplementation to electrical energy generation, yet with modern technological advancements in a number of different areas a new venue is now being explored for wind turbine usage: high-altitude energy collection.

Designed to operate at up to 2,000 feet or more these structures are designed to effectively capture the steadier, more efficient wind currents present well above ground level and convey energy to land-based processing centers through an attached tether. By operating at high altitudes this helps ensure both greater reliability as well as efficiency in terms of energy production, meaning greater returns both financially and ecologically by taking advantage of high altitude conditions. Research has proven, in fact, that high altitude winds alone have the potential to generate roughly 870 terawatts (TW) of energy each year with our own energy needs accounting for less than 2% of that total amount.

Unfortunately there are some downsides to developing high-altitude structures of these kind, primarily government regulations and safety protocols for aircraft. Since most commercial aircraft operate at altitudes of approximately 35,000 feet this means that many of the most powerful winds on the planet will be effectively unavailable for wind harnessing as stationary power generation devices would interfere with commercial flight operations. Additionally the presence of a number of power-generation turbines at high altitudes may prove to be interfering with some military equipment – an issue that faces many land-based wind farms today in areas such as southern Oregon where some power developments are being delayed or outright blocked due to government military security concerns.

Additional concerns for high altitude energy harvesting lie in the rather new nature of the process and its potential viability and safety, as these power generation facilities will be operating autonomously and left in operation with minimal human access for extended periods of time. Nevertheless modern technological improvements in terms of materials and design have helped to mitigate these fears and the first efficient high altitude turbines are expected to be released by many competing companies around the globe in the coming months.

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