The Airborne Wind Turbine

November 17, 2011

Wind energy is just getting started. We’re a long way from moving beyond large, ground or ocean based turbines, but its inspiring to see the variations on a theme that technologists are currently developing.

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10 Responses to “The Airborne Wind Turbine”

  1. otter17 Says:

    Ha, I was thinking about the airborne wind concept just today. I first saw the idea in the IEEE Spectrum magazine a few years back.

    I am in the process of designing and specifying equipment for a wind and solar generation setup for my parents’ farm. Capacity factor is a very important metric for determining the return on investment period since. As a rule of thumb, the higher up in the sky you go, the better wind energy capacity factor (within limits). Anyway, I was thinking of some form of airborne turbine that is reeled in/out via cables depending on how strong the wind happened to be. This Makani concept is quite interesting, I like how they sweep such a large area of the sky with such little amount of material, likely some substantial power output for a given amount of material.

    For engineering and technical folks in the crowd that are interested in the practical numbers and calculations for renewable systems, I highly recommend the book “Renewable and Efficient Electric Power Systems” by Gilbert Masters. It is an excellent text that is well-written, thorough, and balances derivations/theory with practical info.

  2. Jean Mcmahon Says:

    I have a friend who keeps talking of a presentation she heard a long time ago about a small wind machine that came out around WWII for home use.She seems to believe it is THE answer..She does not know the name..When I say Solar economy,she asks if I have heard anything about these WWII wind mills

  3. adelady Says:

    Small wind machine?

    My mother talks of post WW2 people on farms near ours using ordinary windmills, the ones you see anywhere and everywhere to pump water, to recharge car batteries. The batteries were then used to run household lighting at night. They were usually referred to as ‘wind-lights’.

  4. otter17 Says:

    I still can’t get over the capacity factor possibilities for this thing. The figures that Makani are quoting are incredible. Plus, if it ends up costing less per unit of rated power (seems quite likely), that is a double whammy positive effect for the return on investment period. Such an incredibly inventive design that breaks some barriers constraining the existing technology, I love it.

    Fun and informative animations at the link.

    http://www.makanipower.com/concept/fundamentals/

    Heck, I want a small one to use in my renewable energy project for my parents’ farm.

  5. otter17 Says:

    >> “Wind energy is just getting started. We’re a long way from moving beyond large, ground or ocean based turbines, but its inspiring to see the variations on a theme that technologists are currently developing.”

    At the end of the video clip, the energyNOW news anchor makes mention of a larger prototype by 2013 and commercial production by 2015. That isn’t all that far away.


  6. I find myself still favoring the MAGENN AIR ROTOR. It seems the most stable and powerful of many ideas I’ve seen.

    • otter17 Says:

      I do like the simplicity and potential low cost for the floating types of airborne wind turbines, but there are some substantial benefits to the Makani type of turbine in that it can sweep such a large area and capture the high tip speed effect of the large surface-based wind turbines.


  7. Does the actual power generation component need to be airborne? This seems needlessly expensive.

    Is it possible to harness the static pull of a large wind foil – a simple, inexpensive kite – to make electricity on the ground at the tether point, or must actual (rotational) movement be involved?

    I remember a recent proposal of a wind farms that looked like a forest of long tapered poles which would bend in the wind – energy would be generated by a mechanism at the base of each pole as it moved slightly.

    Can one design a generator which harvests force, not movement?

    • otter17 Says:

      I thought about the placement of the generators, too, but it seems that they have a good solution by placing the rotors on the aircraft.

      For one, it can do the take off and land procedure on its own power from the tether cable.

      Secondly, the speed at which the rotors on the aircraft rotate is quite fast, which reduces the size/weight of the generators. All other things being equal, a higher speed electric motor/generator will be smaller than a slower speed unit (this comes from the classic sizing equation for electric machines). One could also imagine that the tether was attached to a single point on a wheel fixed upon a generator shaft at ground level. The speed of rotation would be quite slow, as you could imagine, requiring a larger generator for the same amount of power (or a gearbox to step up the speed).

      I don’t recall of any means to generate power from force without movement. Physics indicates that work (energy) is done by a force that acts on an object through some distance on a path (or torque exerted over a certain angular displacement).


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