Commercial wind farm development: energy generation for the next generation.

Author:West, Gail
Position::SPECIAL SECTION: Energy & Power

Is Alaska on the cusp of hosting the highest wind turbine in the world? Altaeros Energies says it's so. Adam Rein, who co-founded Altaeros (a small, startup company) with an aeronautical engineer in 2010 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says they've partnered with TDX Power, a subsidiary of Tanadgusix Corporation, to launch a high altitude floating wind turbine south of Fairbanks-the Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT). The BAT is an inflatable, helium-filled ring with a wind turbine suspended inside and will float nearly one thousand feet above the ground. Rein says the winds at that elevation tend to be far stronger and more stable.

According to Altaeros, the airborne turbine is not intended to supply power for large electric grids but for remote communities and facilities. It has a power capacity of 30 kilowatts at $0.18 per kilowatt-hour and would create enough energy to power twelve homes.

"We're first doing an initial pilot deployment on the road system south of Fairbanks," Rein says, "then we'll deploy at remote off-road villages. Were really excited about this." Rein adds that the BAT won a ConocoPhillips Energy prize in 2011 for promising new energy technology.

The project is currently awaiting permits from the Federal Aviation Administration (a permit for airspace), from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and permits from the State of Alaska before it can proceed, Rein says, "but we anticipate putting it into the air in 2015."

Once the BAT is in the air, it will be held steady by high strength tethers that allow the electricity to be sent back to the ground. A power station on the ground controls the winches that hold the tethers and pulls the power from the turbine before sending it on to a grid connection. Altaeros also hopes to lift communications equipment such as cellular transceivers or meteorological devices and other sensing equipment for customers.

"More than $1 million of government funding has gone into developing the technology," Rein says, including $750,000 in financing from Alaska Energy Authority's Emerging Energy Technology Fund.

Quickly Developing

Production of wind energy in Alaska is relatively recent but is developing quickly. Over the past seven years, the State's renewable energy fund has put $86 million of grant funds into wind projects, and Sean Skaling, deputy director of Program Development for the State's Alaska Energy Authority, a division of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export...

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