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Published: 30 September 2011 30 September 2011

High Altitude Wind Energy – Is It Just ’Blue Sky’ Thinking?

Windtech International is well known for bringing you articles about new innovations which seem strange at first glance. Over the years we have published several articles about different devices for capturing high altitude wind, also called airborne wind energy (AWE). Because wind velocity and consistency increases as altitude increases, and wind power increases with the cube of the velocity, the potential wind energy available at higher altitudes is a huge untapped resource.

{access view=!registered}Only logged in users can view the full text of the article.{/access}{access view=registered}AWE articles we have previously published were about kites, tethered wings outfitted with turbines, powerplanes, and lighter-than-air tethered rotating devices. And now, in this issue, we have an article focused on the development of an innovative design that has been named PAULA for short, or Power Amplified Upper Level Aerogenerator if you want the full version. This device is an airship with an internal venturi-shaped passageway through it, housing a rotor inside its throat, which can be used to refine the conditions in which the potential of high altitude winds can be exploited, up to a kilometre above ground level.

Our readers have often told us how much they appreciate these articles that ‘think outside the box’. However, many times the ideas were felt to be intriguing, but not realistic. We have received these comments about high altitude wind energy as well. But is it really unrealistic? We continue to see new devices being developed for capturing high altitude wind, and in May of this year, for the second time, the Airborne Wind Energy Conference was organised by the Airborne Wind Energy Consortium, which unites the stakeholders of the industry into a single, focused voice. Their primary purpose is to promote research, development and deployment of airborne wind energy worldwide. The Consortium is made up of industrial firms, academic researchers, utilities, government agencies and others who consider the idea as not only viable but also potentially profitable.

The current boom in conventional wind power, which is a tested technology with well-known investment risks, in sharp contrast to airborne wind energy, nevertheless might create opportunities for airborne wind energy developers. On the one hand, economies of scale will make the competition between conventional wind power installations tougher and tougher but, on the other hand, a growing overall market for wind power will also lead to more investment in research and development of niche products. AWE products might well be one of the niches with the greatest potential; this is because they hold out the possibility of extending profitable wind energy exploitation into locations that are currently unusable because of a poor ground-level wind resource, difficult terrain or inaccessibility.

Perhaps significantly, GL Garrad Hassan recently released the first market report on high altitude wind energy. The report looks at the potential of high altitude winds as an energy source, the current technologies within the sector, and their potential as mature systems. As well as assessing individual technologies and the companies developing them, the report addresses the technical and regulatory challenges faced by the industry and the likelihood of its success. The report identifies 22 companies that have already developed, or have announced their intention to develop, prototypes.

So I, and more importantly others, believe airborne wind energy is certainly realistic and might be the next big thing in wind energy. In the meantime we will continue to bring you articles and news about new devices that catch our eye.

Enjoy reading,

Floris Siteur
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