Claim: all the energy we need is just a mile above our heads- but getting it is another story

Altaeros_Wind_Turbine_Wide[1]From NCAR, some wind pie in the sky.

A mother lode of wind power

Mapping the potential to harvest high-altitude wind

May 28, 2014 | What if all the energy needed by society existed just a mile or two above our heads? That’s the question raised by researchers in an emerging field known as airborne wind energy, which envisions using devices that might look like parachutes or gliders to capture electricity from the strong, steady winds that blow well above the surface in certain regions.

While logistical challenges and environmental questions remain, scientists at NCAR, the University of Delaware, and the energy firm DNV GL have begun examining where the strongest winds are and how much electricity they might be able to generate.

Sources of airborne wind energy: Forecast-model depiction of winds at 850-mb level on 1/30/13

This forecast-model depiction of winds at the 850-millibar level (about a mile above the surface) above the United States on January 30, 2013, shows a strong southerly low-level jet stream (red shading) across the Mississippi Valley, with speeds exceeding 60 knots (69 mph). Reliably strong winds at this height could serve as a valuable source of energy. (Image courtesy Weather Underground and Pennsylvania State University.)

Their key finding: winds that blow from the surface to a height of 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet) appear to offer the potential to generate more than 7.5 terawatts—more than triple the average global electricity demand of 2.4 terawatts (as of 2012, according to the study). Among the areas where such winds are strongest: the U.S. Great Plains, coastal regions along the Horn of Africa, and large stretches of the tropical oceans.

This type of research could prove critical if airborne wind energy takes off. The growing industry now includes more than 20 startups worldwide, exploring various designs for devices that could be tethered to ground stations and then raised or lowered to capture the most suitable winds at any point in time.

“From an engineering point of view, this is really complicated,” said NCAR scientist Luca Delle Monache, a co-author of a new study examining these issues. “But it could greatly increase the use of renewable energy and move the U.S. toward the goal of energy independence.”

To estimate the potential of airborne wind energy, Delle Monache, with Cristina Archer at the University of Delaware and Daran Rife at DNV GL, turned to an NCAR data set known as Climate Four Dimensional Data Assimilation. It blends computer modeling and measurements to create a retrospective analysis of the hourly, three-dimensional global atmosphere for the years 1985–2005.

The research team looked for various types of wind speed maxima, including recurring features known as low-level jets. Such jets can be ideal for energy because their speed and density is as high or higher than jets at higher elevations that would be beyond the reach of tethered wind devices. They also blow more steadily than winds captured by conventional wind turbines near the surface, potentially offering a more reliable source of energy.

Low-level jets blowing at 30-50 miles per hour or more can be found at several locations worldwide, often close to mountainous terrain or to persistent atmospheric features that help focus and channel wind. One of the strongest low-level jets on Earth flows from the Gulf of Mexico north across the Great Plains.

A study by the scientists, published last month in Renewable Energy, focused on winds in January and July. The team is now looking for additional funding to provide a more complete picture of the potential of higher-level winds. Their main goals are to estimate the strength of the winds year round and to build an interface that would enable users to explore the strength of the winds over specific regions.

“It’s important to understand the magnitude of this resource and what might be possible,” Delle Monache said.

 

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milodonharlani

There’s also virtually unlimited energy in the oceans once fusion containment engineering problems are solved:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-ck-daly/breakthrough-in-fusion-re_b_5064272.html

Steve Case

The energy is free, but the collectors aren’t.

Nigel in Waterloo

Google[x] has one of these projects: Makani.
http://www.google.com/makani/

Nigel in Waterloo

Wouldn’t these rather long tethers pose a problem for airplanes?

Latitude

that’s a great idea…I can’t think of anything that could go wrong (snark)

DC Cowboy

So, if they start sucking all this energy out of the jet streams, wouldn’t that affect the wind pattern and subsequently the weather, if not directly beneath the turbines, but ‘downstream’, possibly in other countries? I can see ‘weather wars’ with claims that our high level wind devices are ‘robbing’ 3rd world countries of wind energy and suing climate change that the 3rd world country would want to be compensated for.

joelobryan

The utility of surface based wind turbines suffers severely from the intermittent nature of wind power. Now magnify that to a tethered balloon array of hundreds of these things in Oklahoma-Arkansas when the spring-summer storms roll through. The scale of tethered floating wind turbines to generate viable levels of Megawatts is absurd.
Further more, helium supplies are already facing future shortages.
This approach is absolutely moronic for so many reasons. But hey, rent seekers are always up for a government handout.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7

Perfect. We could use these to power Space Elevators.

Frank K.

In other news, hurricanes can be harnessed as a domestic energy source, according Murray J. Fishbine of NCAR. “Extracting the energy will be a little tricky.” said Fishbine, “but hurricanes are a HUGE source of clean energy!”
/sarc

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7

Once more with feeling (and links).
Perfect We could use these to power Space Elevators.

milodonharlani
Flydlbee

This would be vehemently opposed by most of the aviation community; the cable connecting these devices to the ground would be lethal to aircraft.

Jim G

Why not just land some fusion generators on the Sun and beam the energy down to Earth? You’re thinking we cannot land on the Sun, but maybe we could go at night.

Curious George

Get energy from ocean waves – and you will also limit erosion. NCAR must be desperate to get a clean energy to run their climate models on their Yellowstone supercomputer.

mark wagner

Plus, I imagine that hoisting the necessary power and control cables would significantly increase the lifting capacity, in weight, size and complexity.
And what happens when all that crashes to the ground somewhere?

dp

Let us know when they put one up over the Hamptons. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me.

john robertson

This from the same geniuses who brought us the Precautionary Principle.
Wylie E Coyote, super genius.
Maybe the proper response is to invite them to go fly a kite?

These renewable-energy-at-any-cost” guys are driven by a Chicken Little “the sky is falling” view of the environment. Except they see nothing wrong with hanging a ton of electrical generation equipment in tethered balloons at high altitude to be subjected to low level turbulence and mechanical failure. With this plan the sky may not fall, but large heavy object they put in it certainly will fall.
Their view of risk can only be described as perverse.
Let us also consider limited resources. There isn’t enough helium in the world to float a fraction of the balloons to make a dent in electricity needs. Helium is too valuable to cryogenics for this idiocy anyway. So lets seem them do their testing with plentiful hydrogen. Then we enroll them in the Darwin Awards competition.

DD More

milodonharlani says: August 14, 2014 at 11:24 am
Princeton Plasma Physics Lab:
Had a professor who’s son in law was working on the Princeton tokamak project, but that was 1978. And from your posting – “The facility is designed to produce 500 million watts of fusion power for at least 400 seconds by the late 2020s to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion as a source of energy.”
Just 20 more years.
The team is now looking for additional funding to provide a more complete picture of the potential of higher-level winds.
The growing industry now includes more than 20 startups worldwide, exploring various designs for devices that could be tethered to ground stations and then raised or lowered to capture the most suitable winds at any point in time.

Community funding for private profit.

The question none of these projects ever asks: how much does the cable weigh?

Stephen Richards

IDIOTS the lot of them!

GnomePirate

Bill Marsh – yes! I had the same thought… Maybe not in the sense of wars, but regarding entire systems. I’m just a layman, so someone let me know if I’ve got it wrong.
My understanding of the Law of the Conservation of Energy is that energy is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes form. Technically, then, any electrical power “generated” by wind or water turbines hasn’t really been generated, but rather mechanically removed from one system and transferred to a different one – converted from one form into another.
Do we know:
…what happens when energy is removed from wind currents? Does the wind slow? Cool? Both?
…what happens when energy is removed from oceanic currents? Do the currents slow, or the waters cool (or both)?
…what happens when energy is removed from tidal motion? Do the tides slacken or the water cool (or both)?
Do any of these studies consider what will happen system-wide if wind farms (wherever they are positioned) gradually, maybe even imperceptibly, slow down or cool the wind? Has anyone calculated what will happen in the ocean if the currents slow down or cool down because of massive submarine turbine farms? Has anyone projected what the effect will be if tides slacken?

Eustace Cranch

Sure, what could go wrong?
I can’t think of a thing. Not a thing…

milodonharlani

mark wagner says:
August 14, 2014 at 11:28 am
To avoid disastrous crashes on land & limit hazard to low altitude aviation, maybe they’d all go in the tropical oceans, attached to ships which could serve as artificial tax haven islands. Maybe housing the next three billion people before population stabilizes.
Let’s see. At ten thousand people per ship, that’s 300,000 ships. With a mile between ships, for 300,000 miles, divided by about 15,000 nautical miles of unobstructed equatorial waters, there would have to be 20 ranks of them on either side of the equator. Might need even greater separation to keep the kites from getting entangled & stealing each others’ wind. Obviously have to fly at different altitudes.
I’m thinking fusion. Might even be more cost effective.

milodonharlani

DD More says:
August 14, 2014 at 11:41 am
You’re right that so far fusion has been like Pure Communism in the USSR, always 20 years in the future.
But unlike Communism, IMO fusion will eventually arrive, maybe just about the time humanity can most use it.

Rob

http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/cables.htm
All you need to know about why airborne generators won’t work can be summed up in one word – cables. John Brignell has been pointing this out for about as long as it has been coming up – why it still gets an airing I don’t know.

Paul

“You’re thinking we cannot land on the Sun, but maybe we could go at night.”
Huh? Do you know how cold it is on the dark side of the Sun?

Mac the Knife

Their key finding: winds that blow from the surface to a height of 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet) appear to offer the potential to generate more than 7.5 terawatts—more than triple the average global electricity demand of 2.4 terawatts (as of 2012, according to the study).
This is the same airspace that most of private aviation and a lot of regional commercial aviation use for cruising altitudes, around the world. All aircraft take-offs and landings (commercial and private aviation) use this airspace. The tether cables for this energy kiting scheme would be lethal hazards for all aviation. Think about that, the next time you board a plane…..

Eustace Cranch

I have a better idea. The mass-energy equivalence of just one stalk of asparagus could power Rhode Island for 3 weeks.
Asparagus power to the people!

rayvandune

I read a few years ago about using parasail-like kites to supplement the engine power of ships. I believe several ships were equiped and tested. Anyone heard anything about it recently? One thing that struck me was that by controlling the shape of the foil by rigging lines, just like a parachutist does, the kite coul dbe made to follow a vertical figure-8 pattern in front of the ship. Apparently this results in more pull (lift) from the kite.

Rich

GnomePirate, that is question I’ve been pondering for years, god only knows what could happen, but I’m betting we won’t like it.

Bill Marsh says:
August 14, 2014 at 11:16 am
So, if they start sucking all this energy out of the jet streams, wouldn’t that affect the wind pattern and subsequently the weather, if not directly beneath the turbines, but ‘downstream’, possibly in other countries?

Whoa, I was thinking essentially the same thing.
I guess these folks just aren’t considering what will happen if they “break wind”!!

milodonharlani

rayvandune says:
August 14, 2014 at 11:58 am
There has been a lot of interest in wind-assisted shipping, but I don’t know the outcome of the parasail design experiment.
More conventional designs:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/science/earth/cargo-ship-designers-turn-to-wind-to-cut-cost-and-emissions.html
http://gcaptain.com/wind-power-return-commercial-shipping/
Alleged experiment with a parafoil kite from 2007:
http://blog.greens.org.nz/2007/12/27/wind-assisted-shipping/

joelobryan

Instead of helium or hydrogen filled lift bags, they could use hot air balloons fueled by propane or methane.
CO2 is good. Its keeps us warm and feeds the plants we eat.

milodonharlani

joelobryan says:
August 14, 2014 at 12:04 pm
How about fusing H into He instead of using the light gases to fill bags?

The engineering complexity of this just boggles the mind. After looking at the Google Makani system and a few minutes of thought, I can immediately see the following needs/concerns:
* First, they need to be defined as airworthy by someone
* Multiple high strength, flexible tethers (for redundancy); single tethers risk loss of unit and damage downrange from a crash
* Multiple tether systems will have to not tangle
* Lift capacity needed to overcome main unit weight, plus weight of all (redundant) tethers
* Energy transfer cable (assuming we can’t just “beam” it to a receptor array on Earth) must also have adequate support and strain relief, thus probably needs its own support structure (could be combined as with Makani)
* Tethers & cables must be capable of withstanding some level of tornado force winds (200 MPH or greater), which will further impact the lift capacity calculation; the higher the unit flies, the quicker must be the response to ground the systems in a “wind farm” when bad weather approaches
* Energy transfer system may also need to have some degree of redundancy
* Lift capacity must also be capable of overcoming wind forces on the tethers & power cables
* Ground-level power connection to the grid would likely need special design to accommodate the high input rates, as well as a rapid reversal of full production to small consumption during landing operations for maintenance or severe weather
* Tethers have to be attached to “something,” so anchorages would need to be made or formed (could we use some sort of connection to a mass of bedrock?); anchorages and ground stations, (e.g., Makani’s) need to be secured and monitored
* Risk management or insurance (or liability waiver/government backing) needed to address a potential system failure that results in catastrophic crash, potentially in a densely populated location (i.e., proximate to areas of greatest demand demand)
* Launching logistics: location needed near point of assembly/manufacture or, alternatively, a means to “transport” an airborne unit over significant distances or, alternatively, multiple points of assembly & manufacture near intended launching point & final unit position (talk about NIMBY opposition!)
* Tethers & power cables also pose significant hazard potential for drones (love ’em or hate ’em), hot air balloons & other dirigibles, recreational aircraft (e.g., ultra-lights), parachutists, law enforcement and other low-flying aircraft (agricultural)
* Risk to protected and migratory species of birds unclear (as in the past with traditional wind turbines)
I guess I have to wonder what the energy source would be for long-term sustainable lift production.
BTW, if someone comes up with big units that are incompatible with routine capture and release operations due to severe weather or other needs, who here is interested in taking on the “mile-high maintenance” job?

yam

Build a better barrage balloon and the world will crash a plane to your door.

Dave

Just when you begin to think that green energy proposals can’t get any stupider… and then this fricken idea comes along. But don’t worry, the same guys that brought us Solyndra are certain to form a start-up company in order to be the recipient of more Government largess.
Maybe I’ll invest… /sarc

Why do all these yokels avoid the obvious solution in plain sight?
All the energy we need , or will ever need,is actually residing in spent uranium storage pools around the country. That “nuclear waste” stil contains more than 98% of the energy it contained before it fueled a nuclear reactor for 4 or more years. Build (completely safe) fast reactors to extract most of the remaining energy and the estimates are that this will provide all the power this country needs for 1000 years. And it won’t affect any wind patterns, etc.

bit chilly

i have to laugh,all this fuss about removing what is essentially an inert substance from miles under the ground whose major byproduct appears to be a trace gas that increases plant growth,and the solution is to extract energy from dynamic systems that influence the biosphere ,wind ,solar ,wave and tidal energy. you really could not make it up,absolute ******* morons.

Dave says:
August 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm
Just when you begin to think that green energy proposals can’t get any stupider… and then this fricken idea comes along. But don’t worry, the same guys that brought us Solyndra are certain to form a start-up company in order to be the recipient of more Government largess.
Maybe I’ll invest… /sarc

Good idea – get in while the subsidies are high, take a profit, and sell.
I’m in.

William Sears

John Brignell of Number Watch has never been keen on this:
http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/cables.htm
The nonsense that will not go away.

dccowboy

Ive been giving this some thought. Why not enclose the Sun to Mars orbit in a gigantic ‘Dyson Sphere’ and cover the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the sphere with solar panels. That should generate more than enough energy to meet our needs foor quite some time. Impractical you say? No more impractical than this harebrained scheme.

If you extract a significant portion of wind energy, you will seriously alter wind patterns. Let’s
see some research on that side-effect before proceeding.

Engineering issues aside, you cannot GET energy without taking it. removing energy from the jet streams could have repercussions with precipitation patterns.

Tom Norkunas

Bill Marsh says:
August 14, 2014 at 11:16 am
So, if they start sucking all this energy out of the jet streams, wouldn’t that affect the wind pattern and subsequently the weather
Global calming, the next great extinction.

Some of these folks obviously have a lot of ignorance about our nation’s energy system :
“From an engineering point of view, this is really complicated,” said NCAR scientist Luca Delle Monache, a co-author of a new study examining these issues. “But it could greatly increase the use of renewable energy and move the U.S. toward the goal of energy independence.”
We have no “energy dependence” except for oil, and these wind machines can’t produce anything but electricity, which cannot replace oil (at this time, or anytime soon). Wind power can
have no effect on energy independence. Sen Max Baucus made the same stupid claim years ago when he was christening a wind turbine.

Dave Wendt

Sounds like a great plan! I think I have the perfect name for this wonderful system. We could call it ” SKYNET”.

GA Engineer

i may not be near clever enough but I think of a conductor extending from a mile above all the way to the earth as problematic. It would be a natural path for grounding clouds (Basically a carrie for lightning). A conductor large enough to carry the regular amperage plus lightning strikes would be pretty substantial and then the conversion equipment on the ground would have to be able of surviving the strikes. If they haven’t thought this far ahead (maybe they have and there are very interessting solutions they can share) it’s premature to be touting the potential.

Patrick B

I think a fleet of these should be moored directly above NCAR, wired to NCAR and then all other power sources to NCAR should be cut. I also believe personal experience is often the best teacher.