Winds are stronger and steadier at higher altitudes, that’s why the Buoyant Air Turbine (BAT) from Altaeros is pushing to be the highest wind turbine in history. Already tested to 500 feet off the ground in 45 mph winds, this helium-filled shell with a wind turbine in the middle is soon shooting for a world record 1,000 ft float. Packing down into a shipping container for transport, the BAT is being proposed as a quickly deployable tethered power source for remote areas and emergency zones.
Wind turbines on the tops of towers have a few disadvantages and attract criticism on several fronts. They take a long time to install, they make a bit of noise, they pose a threat to birds and some folks consider them a blight on the landscape, making them a bit of a "not in my backyard" proposition in certain areas.
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More importantly, the towers aren’t high enough to take advantage of the strong, consistent wind you can get higher up. At 1,000 ft, for example, you can expect about five times more wind than you can at the top of a standard tower.
The Buoyant Air Turbine (BAT) from Altaeros is an inflatable helium shell with stabilizing fins and a turbine in the middle. Strong tethers anchor it to the ground and send the electricity down.
It’s designed to handle winds up to 100 mph in the air, and it’s not bothered by rain or snow. It’s got a secondary grounding tether to protect its electronics from lightning strikes, and it can be set to quietly return to its dock if weather gets too bad. If one of its three tethers breaks, it’ll automatically bring itself down as well.
The BAT can be transported in a shipping container, and deployed inside 24 hours, making it handy for emergency zones. It can be remotely monitored once it’s set up, but somebody does need to check it every now and then for tears, and top up the helium if required.
Of course, floating tethered wind generators have their own set of safety issues. Something this big floating in the sky on wires could easily get in the way of small aircraft, or find itself coming down to earth in inconvenient ways if something goes wrong, as Mike Barnard points out in his excellent Dodgy Wind piece from last year. But Altaeros Energies doesn’t appear to be pitching the BAT as anything but a remote or emergency zone generator, so it doesn’t raise any red flags.
The testing is being conducted in Alaska, we’ll keep you updated.
Source: Altaeros EnergiesView gallery - 16 images