An American company, Altaeros Energies, recently launched a prototype helium-shelled wind turbine that can be used at high altitudes. While the test run took place at 350ft above ground, the ultimate goal is a height of 1,000ft. Tethers send the converted power back to the ground. Compared with traditional wind turbines, the prototype garners twice as much energy, as wind is stronger at higher altitudes.
Sources: Green Tech Media, Smart Planet
Interesting. With enough of these, we could help solve the energy crisis while creating a helium shortage at the same time!
Seriously, though, this is the sort of idea that makes me wonder why I didn't think of it myself.
I think we can probably make helium in breeder reactors, right?
The military has, for years, tried to use balloons to hold radar and/or cameras and results were mixed in long term performance because winds and weather are so fickle. A front coming through, a sudden shift in winds, lightning and static electricity all play cobb with such systems. Another problem is that such systems make sense if they can be operated long term with a limited staff. Launching and retrieving a large balloon, particularly in heavy winds, take manpower. These two factors, vulnerability to weather extremes if not taken down, and the need for manpower to land and launch them, conflict.
What is needed is a balloon and tether system that can be set up, sent up, and stay up for weeks or months so man-hour requirements are kept low. To do this you need a system that can ride out storms at altitude without significant damage. Such a system doesn't exist.
Let's see; Hazard to aviation, check. Use of a scarce and (for the moment) irreplaceable resource, check. Probably interference with communications, maybe. Two out of three ain't bad.
So not a great energy-crisis solution but possibly a good solution for emergency power in remote areas. A couple of these could power a hospital and a relief center for instance, after a disaster.
These won't be any fun until they're filled with hydrogen. They'll use the generated current at the base to make hydrogen, saving the expensive helium for essential military applications. If one blows up, what the hell - we'll just make more.
Art: Yes and no. Balloons have also been used in archaelogy and other contexts for photography, etc. It does entirely depend on the weather. Of course for photography, the whole process may depend on the weather in orthogonal ways, so I would imagine even less success with that than with energy. Anyway, the information provided indicates that the process is entirely automatic. So, that means one guy with an "up" and "down" button.
George: I doubt the interference with communication thing is that much of an issue. I agree, though, this is not our next source of energy. This is for use at polar research stations (like depicted, I am guessing) or perhaps even on boats at sea.
GregH.... great idea. For that matter, there is probably a way to burn the hydrogen for more energy, so it would be a flaming flying wind generator.
Hydrogen sounds like fun! And its a little more buoyant
Picture them as Von Neumann machines using the power to make hydrogen and replicating, the inevitable explosions would be a bonus.
I think its time for my meds...
How often would these balloons have to be refilled with gas? I note that the Goodyear Blimp FAQ says the blimp may have to add 10,000 cubic feet of helium per month, while the wind turbine would have a lot higher surface to volume than a blimp. So the turbine balloon would have to be hauled down and refilled regularly.
Fascinating idea. Perhaps this is the appropriate place to mention KiteGen, a different approach to high-altitude wind?