Thursday, April 3, 2014

Altaeros BAT: The Next Generation of Wind Power

Altaeros Energies is to carry out the first commercial demonstration of a high altitude wind turbine, thanks to a partnership with the Alaska Energy Authority.

The wind energy company was formed out of MIT, and has developed a 10-metre-wide, helium filled inflatable wind turbine called the Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT) that has been tested at altitudes of more than 100 metres above ground. Altaeros has now found a commercial partner to take the technology to the next stage.

The inflatable wind turbine is designed to lift to high altitudes where winds are stronger and more consistent than those reached by traditional tower-mounted turbines. The turbine is held in place by high-strength tethers, which also have cables to carry electricity to the ground. The BAT borrows heavily from aerostats, the blimp-like inflatables that have been used to lift heavy communications equipment for years. BAT is designed to withstand very strong winds, and a prototype survived 45mph winds in a 2013 test.

The $1.3 million, eighteen-month project will see the BAT flown at heights of 300 metres above ground in a long-term demonstration of the technology in a site south of Fairbanks. The aim is to test its viability as a flexible, low-cost power solution for remote communities. "The project will generate enough energy to power more than a dozen homes," say Altaeros CEO Ben Glass, "the BAT can be transported and setup without the need for large cranes, towers, or underground foundations that have hampered past wind projects."

When flown at the planned altitude, the wind turbine will be more than 80 metres higher than the current record holder for the highest wind turbine, the snappily-named (and, frankly, enormous) Vestas V164-8.0-MW.

The remote power and microgrid market -- currently served by gas-guzzling generators -- could be worth as much as $17 billion, according to Altaeros.

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