A new generation of renewable energy entrepreneurs are currently developing turbines to harness the wind in the upper layers of the atmosphere, where some believe as much as 870 terawatts (or 87 trillion watts) of energy lurks. The question is how bring it back down to Earth. NASA aerospace engineer Mark Moore has proposed tethering floating turbines with nanotube cables that would double as transmission wires. But that’s just one idea in the ascendant industry, and Moore has won a the first-ever federal grant to evaluate airborne wind generation.
Moore will study all the proposals private companies have begun to float, such as Italian startup TWIND’s paired balloons with sails attached and California-based Makani Power‘s glider wing concept. “We’re trying to create a level playing field of understanding,” explains Moore, “where all of the concepts and approaches can be compared.”
However it works, every tethered turbine would require a swath of no-fly zone around it, something the airline industry would surely resist. Moore will look into the possibility of flying the turbines above the ocean, which would minimize competition for air space but increase the difficulty of getting the energy to where it’s needed. With such big, global questions remaining, it’s important to see the government opening the funding tap.
Lead photo courtesy Makani Energy