Sky Windmills?

Lynne Kiesling

Three different airborne wind power technologies are in development, and are discussed in this article. Sky Windpower’s uses motors to get the turbines into position, then once in position the motors turn to generators. That’s pretty cool.

And they would have far better uptime than most windmills–since the jetstream never quits, they should operate at peak capacity 70-90% of the time. Output would also be less dependent on location than it is on the ground, simply because terrain doesn’t matter much when you’re at 35,000ft; however, since the jetstream and other “geostrophic” winds don’t blow much at latitudes near the equator, it would be useful primarily for middle- and higher-latitudes.

They can’t promise uninterrupted power all the time, however. In an electrical storm, the power-carrying tether becomes the biggest lightning rod you’ve ever seen. (Move over, Ben Franklin!) Their website says this problem is “frequently brought to our attention, and must be addressed.” Their plan is to take the flyers down to land before a storm gets bad, and wait for it to end.

Oops, that would be a problem. Thanks to Boing Boing for the link. So what do you think? Feasible? Economical?


3 thoughts on “Sky Windmills?

  1. Such a system would have to contend with enormous static charges even if there are no storms. Recall that the charges from storms come from the movement of air of different charges. That’s precisely what you’d get if you flew one of these things.

    I’ve done such things for ham radio experiments. We launched a 200′ long wire in to the sky. The first few times we did it, we didn’t know what we were doing. We figured out pretty quickly that it was SERIOUSLY loaded with static electricity even on clear blue sky days.

    Going to 35,000 would be nice, but this also ignores issues such as strength of materials for the mooring lines and how to reserve such airspaces.

    This is pie in the sky stuff. Start small, conquer the problems, and scale up. Proposing this sort of thing up front shows me that there are loads of dreamers out there who lack even the smallest clue as to how this will work.

  2. I wrote about these guys last year. The jet stream never quits in certain latitudes (Chicago and Detroit are, IIRC, particularly well suited for this kind of thing, but Los Angeles, Phoenix, and pretty much everyone south of roughly St. Louis are out), but even taking that as an aside, it’s a lot more constant than the winds at the lowest points of the troposphere.

    Incidentally, Lynne, I suspect “retired” is probably too strong a word for what’s happened to Peak Oil Optimist; it’s more like “reduced posting schedule”. I was wondering when I wrote my “farewell” post whether I’d actually stick to it, and by two weeks later I’d given up on that. So here we are again.

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