High-Altitude Wind Farms Could Be A Game Changer For Green Energy

Wind generation suffers from intermittent issues, but this could be improved upon by hoisting them higher in the air. Studies from a KAUST research team shows that they're able to retrieve an abundant amount of energy in select parts of the Middle East.


May 23 2019, Updated 10:35 a.m. ET

Wind power is a great renewable energy source, but it comes with one major problem: It can provide energy around the clock, given the very nature of the wind. Battery storage has been a common answer to this problem, but new studies show there could be an alternative approach to this hitch. What is it? Simply put, turbines placed higher into the air in places that can provide consistent wind power may be the solution.

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Scientists from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have been able to locate areas in the Middle East where they can have consistent energy with high-altitude wind turbines. Based on their research, data shows that these farms high in the air could generate usable power. The most favorable areas include parts over Saudi Arabia and Oman.

NASA was able to provide wind speeds at various levels, and the research team was able to determine when the best times were during the year. "Optimal altitudes for the turbines vary by region and with time of year and time of day," Andrew Yip, one of the study’s authors, told Phys.org. "In general, the abundance of the airborne wind-energy resources increases with altitude."

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Connected kites could be used to change the altitude of these wind turbines, providing more efficiency. Anywhere the wind is blowing hardest, that’s where the wind turbine will be. At the moment, current turbines will likely work up to two miles in the air, but should they be able to withstand higher altitudes, they’d be able to generate even more wind power.

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High-altitude wind farms could be a major enhancement in the wind power industry. If feasible on a bigger scale, more research can be done around the world. At the moment, wind turbines planted on the ground or floating in offshore areas are limited to how the wind blows near the surface, and that constantly changes on a daily basis.

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This isn’t the first time that airborne wind generation has received hype. Altaeros Energies unveiled the Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT) back in 2014, and the goal was to produce a large balloon that could lift a wind turbine up to 2,000 feet into the sky. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) startup was founded back in 2010.

Recently, Altaeros received its second investment from SoftBank Group back in August, worth $7.5 million. This is to fund more research into the BAT and to produce the SuperTower, their way to bring broadband access at low costs to rural areas. SoftBank last funded the startup with $7 million back in late 2014.

There’s still a lot to figure out with high-altitude wind farms, such as how much it would cost to build them and how they would play with frequent air traffic in the sky. However, we’ve barely scratched the surface of this new technology. Airborne wind farms have great potential to lower our reliance on battery power while being a more consistent source of energy.

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