Posted by Tom Fitz
Tom Fitz
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on Tuesday, 27 March 2012
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A New Development in Wind Power?

New Technology Prototype Shows Signs of Promise

Wind is free, and by capturing it efficiently using advanced technologies, it can produce energy that does not create green house gases or other types of pollutants. Examples of man harnessing the energy of the wind to create wind power dates back to almost 7,000 years ago. New technologies look to increase efficiency levels even more at affordable price points.

Makani Airborne Wind Turbine

Makani Power of Alameda, California first revealed their Wing 6 prototype in 2010 as an innovative alternative to harness wind power. Unlike typical commercial wind turbines that are mounted to the ground and rise hundreds of feet into the air, the Wing 6 is more like a hybrid of a kite and model airplane. The 20 kW Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) demonstrated at the ARPA-E summit has an 8 foot wingspan is made of black carbon fiber. It is a wing containing four propellers, a thin fuselage and a tail with a rudder and an elevator. It is tethered to the ground with a cable that is used to send the produced energy back to earth.

Advantages of the AWT

This so called flying wind turbine has approximately 90% less mass than a traditional wind turbine, but more importantly, has the ability to generate electricity from much lower wind speeds than most conventional turbines can harvest. Because the AWT can access stronger and more consistent wind at altitudes around 1,000 feet, it makes the technology a more viable option to almost 85% of the US versus typical turbine technology that is feasible for only 15%.

Next Steps for Makani

Now the company plans on scaling the technology up to commercial levels by building a 600 kW, 28-meter wingspan model. Makani estimates this model should be able to produce energy at a cost competitive with coal, and claim electricity produced with their technology will cost about half of that produced by current wind power farms.

I’m stoked that Makani was awarded a $3 million grant to further develop their AWT technology. In addition to being more efficient than traditional wind power technologies, it appears many of the other disadvantages associated with existing wind turbines will be rectified. It also appears the technology may be the front runner for off-shore clean energy harvesting should commercial prototypes test results prove positive.

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