A lot has been said about our wind generators‘ power over the past few years. Initially thought of as the answer to the worlds energy crisis, we soon realized how many turbines, and the vast amount of space that would actually be needed to power the world.
People are already up in arms about wind turbines ruining scenic landscapes, and environmentalists are worried about birds getting caught up in the blades. But what if there was a solution? An idea so revolutionary that it is hard to imagine…
It appears there is. Time magazine even named it one of the best inventions of 2008. It’s called the “Flying Electric Generator”.
So what is it?
The FEG is a type of “rotorcraft” that hovers above the ground and generates power from strong high altitude winds. But what’s amazing about it is that it is lifted by the wind. To keep it from flying off, it is tethered to the ground, from which the electric current is sent back down to earth.
As the FEG lifts higher, it reaches stronger winds, which enable it to produce more power. In fact, it has been said that these high altitude winds or jet streams are so strong that using just 1% of them could power the entire planet.
And when will it become operational?
So far the only demonstration of an operating FEG was done in Australia, where they used electricity to get it off the ground. The experiment was very successful, showing that even in light winds close to the ground, the FEG hovered there perfectly.
Next they plan to test a larger rotorcraft at 240kW tethered at up to 15,000ft. And then they will scale up even further to FEG’s with four rotors, capable of producing ten to forty megawatts of power – which is far more than the current highest wind turbine capacity of five megawatts.
People have had there doubts about how lightning or turbulence at high altitudes could affect the FEG. For lightning, a warning system is in place where the FEG is then simply brought down to earth. The turbulence is not such a problem since the rotorcraft acts very much like a kite, and will simply settle back to how it was after a big gust of wind. And a GPS and gyroscope combination will be used to control its pitch and roll.
So, how much power production is possible?
According to the San Diego based company, Sky WindPower Corporation, an array of 600 FEG’s rated at 20MW, and operating over a ground space of 200 square miles could produce over three times as many megawatt hours per year as the 28,572,902MWh produced by the Palos Verde Arizona nuclear plant in 2003.
And just 43 of these FEG arrays operating at 85% capacity could produce up to 3,883,185,000MWh of power – that’s the total power consumption of the U.S. in 2003.
And how much will this power cost us?
According to a careful study made by Sky WindPower Corp, in the long range the cost of an FEG of ten megawatt capacity would be less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour (including land use costs). This is less than the energy costs of fossil fuels. But obviously site selection and proximity to existing power lines are very important factors.
Since the FEG’s are still in the testing phase, we are not quite sure how long it will take before we see any hovering in the distance. But one thing is for sure is that if all goes to plan, we may see airborne wind generators power the planet.