A Boston company later this year will try to launch the largest high-altitude wind turbine in Alaska.
Altaeros Energies plans to launch a 1000-foot-high floating wind turbine south of Fairbanks to bring affordable power to a remote community. Altaeros managers explained to The New York Times its cost to produce power will be about $0.18 per kilowatt-hour, about half the price of off-grid electricity in Alaska.
The $1.3 million, 18-month project will deploy the Altaeros Buoyant Airborne Turbine (pictured). It would be the first long-term, commercial-scale use of an airborne wind turbine.
Once floating the BAT will be over 275 feet taller than the current record holder for the highest wind turbine, the Vestas V164-8.0-MW.
It will have a hub height of 460 feet and blade tips stretching over 720 feet high. A prototype was recently installed at the Danish National Test Center for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild.
The $1.3 million Alaska project is being funded by Alaska Energy Authority’s Emerging Energy Technology Fund and RNT Associates International, which is owned by the former chairman of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, which includes Tata Power, India’s largest integrated power company.
Why should people use high-flying and transportable turbines? The IEEE explains here.
This segment comes from the recent post on the IEEE website:
Unlike its earth-bound brethren, the airborne turbine is not intended to supply power for large electric grids. Instead, its sweet spot is serving far-flung villages, military bases, mines, or disaster zones. Various researchers have been developing floating wind turbines for years, but the 18-month project in Alaska will be the first longer-term, commercial project to test the technology, according to Altaeros.
Altaeros’ Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT) is an inflatable, helium-filled ring with a wind turbine suspended inside. It will float at a height of 300 meters, where winds tend to be far stronger than they are on the ground. The altitude of the BAT is about double the hub height of the world’s largest wind turbine.
The BAT has a power capacity of 30 kilowatts and will create enough energy to power about 12 homes, the company says. But that’s just the beginning. It can also lift communications equipment such as cellular transceivers or meteorological devices and other sensing equipment. Altaeros said additional equipment does not affect the energy performance of the turbine.
The technology can be deployed in under 24 hours, because it does not require cranes or underground foundations. Instead it uses high-strength tethers, which hold the BAT steady and allow the electricity to be sent back to the ground. A power station on the ground controls the winches that hold the tethers and pulls in the power from the turbine before sending it on to a grid connection. Altaeros has tested its BAT prototype in 70 kilometer-per-hour winds, but because it uses the same technology as other industrial blimps that are rated to withstand hurricane-level winds, it might be able to withstand stronger gusts.
Altaeros says there is a US $17-billion remote power and microgrid market that could benefit from the technology. Many off-grid sites, including small islands, mining sites or military bases, rely on expensive diesel generators to provide some or all of their power needs. There are many projects that are trying to develop integrated solutions to tackle this market, particularly microgrids that integrate some type renewable energy.
The Boston-based startup is hardly alone in flying power stations, either. Last year, Google X purchased Makani Power that makes airborne wind turbines that resemble small airplanes. At the time, Google told TechCrunch that the appeal of Makani was that “They’ve turned a technology that today involves hundreds of tons of steel and precious open space into a problem that can be solved with really intelligent software.” Other airborne wind companies include WindLift, SkySails, Sky Windpower, and NTS.