Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's a Bird? It's a Plane? It's a Wind Turbine!

An Australian engineer and San Diego-based SkyWindPower are developing a flying wind turbine, or Flying Electric Generator (FEG).

Since wind speed is greater and more constant at higher altitudes, wind turbines placed at 15,000 feet above the earth's surface could generate more electricity than they could on the ground. What's more, scientists have estimated that capturing just one percent of the available energy of the winds at these super-high heights could meet the electricity needs of the entire planet. David Shepard, head of SkyWindPower, told
"The largest ground-based wind turbines currently produce about five megawatts each. We expect typical FEGs to produce about 20 megawatts each."

The next step is to figure out how to get the turbines up that high. As you see in the image, the prototype FEG has four 35-foot blades at each end of its "H" shape. These act like helicopter blades, lifting the device into the air. So not only do the blades get the FEG to the required height, but also act as wind turbines that turn dynamos within that generate electricity. The energy could then be transmitted back to earth through an aluminum tethering cable - or so the theory goes.

Shepard says that development is at an advanced stage, and he expects a U.S. demonstration in less than three years and in four years "this sort of technology to be in active use."

Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. Shepard estimates that 43 arrays - made up of 600 FEGs each -
would generate enough electricity for the entire United States and would cost about $2.26 million each to build, maintain, and support. But he argues that the efficiency of these turbines would make up for the cost and would require a relatively small amount of space.

Risks include mid-air collisions with aircraft and malfunctioning equipment falling to earth, but the U.S. government's interest is piqued at least, reportedly showing "considerable" interest in the SkyWindPower's FEB prototype.

Photo source: SkyWindPower


Andrew said...

$2.26 Million?
I think you missed a 'B' there...

weee said...

Wow, that is really thinking out of the box. What an absolutely fantastic idea.

Maria Surma Manka said...

Thanks for the catch Andrew - CNN reports the cost at $2.26 million EACH. I'll clarify that.