High-Altitude Wind Farms

by Richard T. Stuebi

Having been working in the cleantech field for almost decade, it is rare anymore for me to see or hear about something that I find revolutionary.

However, a recent article in The Economist profiled a new technology concept that threw me for a loop: a multi-pronged wind turbine contraption floating aloft like a kite, six miles in altitude in order to capture the winds of the jet stream, tethered to the ground via a transmission cable.

The company develping this technology is a San Diego firm named Sky WindPower. The company’s founder, Dave Shepard, claims that the cost of power from this technology could approach 2 cents/kwh. In addition to bringing the costs of renewables down dramatically, the technology would enable wind energy to serve baseload power requirements, given the perpetual (though not entirely constant) wind velocity of the jet stream.

I have to admit: I’m pretty skeptical of Sky WindPower’s idea. Beyond the obvious challenges about making such a technology actually work — both constructing it, launching it and controlling it — it strikes me that maintaining such an apparatus would be a nightmare, and having a bunch of cables criss-crossing the sky would no doubt pose havoc to aviation.

But, I gotta give these guys credit: they are thinking way outside the box.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

2 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    There was an excellent article about this and other revolutionary ideas in a 2006 edition of Scientific American. It was either September or October.

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