A new study from the University of Delaware finds that high-altitude wind turbines tethered to the ground like kites could potentially generate enough clean, renewable electricity for the entire world. Researchers targeted regions where “wind speed maxima” allow airborne wind energy (AWE) devices to generate at full capacity. At the intermediate density of airborne turbines, the electricity generation could exceed 7.5 terawatts — three times the current annual electricity demand around the world.
There are more than 20 companies in different stages of developing AWE technology with over 100 patents filed in the United States. Google is backing a prototype called Makani Power, though a spokesperson said commercially viable airborne wind farms are still a few years out.
These companies plan to deploy the turbines at heights of between 656 feet and 1.86 miles. They want to be where the wind speeds are the highest at the lowest altitude. The best spots on the planet for airborne wind farms include the American Great Plains, oceanic areas near the equator and the Somali current off the Horn of Africa. The “wind speed maxima” actually covers a quarter of the planet so there are even more places where AWE is feasible.
The higher wind speeds and consistent air flow aren’t the only advantages AWE has over land and water-based wind turbines. They are made with cheaper materials, are less visually and audibly impactful to the surrounding area and can be maneuvered to where the fastest wind speed is at any given time.
Images via Makani