Flying Wind Turbines, yes they may be practical
Source Gar Lipow
Date 10/06/04/23:31

Normally when I write about efficiency, renewable energy and
technology I discuss solid stuff we know how to do today. But this
post is about what is literally blue sky technology. One reason I'm
making an exception is that everything except an actual inexpensive
test has been completed to determine practicality. Given that a lot of
serious people think it is practical, and that determining whether
they are right or wrong is so inexpensive I think the fact that the
final tests are not happening says something about our social

WIND ELECTRICITY FROM flying energy generators cheaper and more
reliable than coal? by Gar W. Lipow
Grist 30-May-2010 (that date is actually the first draft, not when published).

Technology that might provide clean electricity that is cheaper and
more reliable than coal is ready for testing. Some of the world's
leading scientists think it will work. So why aren't we spending a few
million (not billion but million) dollars to find out?

The basic idea: wind blows harder and more constantly at high
altitudes where aircraft fly than over the tops of towers we install
wind turbines on today. Attach wind turbines to tethered helicopters
and we can generate many times the energy of conventional turbines. We
can use the tethers both to send electricity to the helicopter to keep
it in the air, and to draw electricity back down to the ground from
the flying generators. The electricity needed to run the helicopters
is trivial compared to what we get back.

Sounds nuts, doesn't it? But a proof-of-concept toy version
demonstrated net energy at less than 500 feet back in 1986, when
Professor Bryan Roberts tested his first "GyroMill". With today's
aerospace technology and ability to create ultra-strong electrically
conductive fiber, Sky WindPower Corporation believes their modern
Flying Energy Generators (FEGs) based on the same principles are ready
to produce electricity at 15,000 to 33,000 feet. They have designed a
250 KW proof-of-feasibility prototype they are ready to test if they
can get the funding. Scientists and engineers inside and outside of
Sky WindPower have jointly produced a peer reviewed paper, Harnessing
High Altitude Wind Power, that makes a convincing case for their

Sky WindPower, and outside reviewers claim cost per MW of peak
capacity is lower than conventional systems, and that FEGS operate at
double or triple the capacity of conventional wind power. If true this
would result in per kWh costs lower than generation costs for coal

There are other advantages as well. At 15,000 to 33,000 feet flying
generators pose little or no danger to birds and bats and insects. If
these systems work, they can operate in locations where conventional
wind farms are impractical, meaning they can be placed much closer to
transmission than today's wind farms. Similarly the high capacity
utilization (up to 92%) means comparatively small amounts of storage
can let FEGs deliver baseload, load following, and perhaps even some
peaking power. There are objections, but if you follow the link to Sky
WindPower and to the peer reviewed pdf, you will find most of them

So what is stopping this from being tested? After all, a number of
venture capitalists (including Google) are interested in the concept.
It is a chicken/egg problem, caused by the interaction of two
problems, neither of which would be fatal alone, but which together
are show stoppers. The first problem is: even though we have models
and strong evidence on paper these will work, we can't really know how
successful they will be until we try them. Years ago engineers called
this the smoke test. "Turn it on and see if it smokes". By itself this
is not a big problem. Venture capitalists do risk funding an initial
prototype on occasion, though they much prefer to invest after a
prototype is up and running.

But the second problem with FEGs is that at heights of 10,000 to
33,000 feet, you have to ban aviation from wherever you locate
generation. In essence FEGs displace air traffic. The U.S. displaces
aviation from various locations for all sorts of purposes: defense
bases, the war on some drugs, and the war on terra. I'd say that clean
inexpensive electricity is a far better reason to exclude aviation
from a small area than the motive behind most of our current U.S.
no-fly zones.

But consider how those two problems interact. If you were a venture
capitalist how willing would you be to risk money on a prototype that
not only might not work, but would be very difficult to permit sites
for if it did work? Similarly, nobody is going to take on a political
battle to set up procedures for licensing FEGS without knowing if they
are technically feasible or not. This is a perfect case for a
government funding to break the chicken-egg deadlock. Compared to
other Federal energy R&D expenditures, the scale is small. Pay for the
production of a prototype, plus rental of a rural airport that is in
big enough financial trouble to be willing to shut down on successive
weekends in return for a generous fee. Cho could probably find the
funding inside DOE if he thought it worthwhile, maybe within existing
research programs. If anyone reading this has DOE contacts they might
want to mention this to them.

At any rate, if I were in the U.S. DOE or in an equivalent agency in
any nation within the latitudes where FEGS could work, I would take a
serious look at the technology to decide if it was worth spending a
few million dollars to test a prototype. At the very least I would
allocate some staff time for an initial review. If it passed that
review, I would allocate resources to rigorously evaluate it, and if
it passed that evaluation then I would strongly consider funding it.

Sky Windpower's technology is not the only high altitude wind system
under development; though I think it is the best. Gary Rondeau wrote
an excellent post on the technology and players for the Energy
Collective: High Altitude Wind Power - A Review . Anyone looking into
this will want to consider them all. But I think anyone investigating
will find Sky WindPower's system is the most mature technology, has
the lowest cost per kWh, and has biggest short and long term potential
of any high altitude wind energy system.


Sky Wind Power Corporation

Picture of first GyroMill in operation in 1986

Harnessing High Altitude Wind Power by Bryan W. Roberts, Ken Caldeira,
M. Elizabeth Cannon et. al.

High Altitude Wind Power - A Review by Gary Rondeau

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