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Catch the Wind: Helium-Filled Turbine to Float 1,000 Feet Above Alaska

Ridgeline wind continues to be controversial, and offshore wind comes with its own set of on-site issues, including a much higher installation cost. However, if America is ever going to replace fossil fuels with clean alternatives, wind has to be part of the mix.

Some innovative designers and engineers have come up with a solution worthy of Jules Verne: floating turbines.  

Nanuq netted this one off the web, and you just gotta love the whimsy as well as the practicality of the idea.  

An enormous helium-filled wind turbine will soon float over the city of Fairbanks, Alaska to produce enough electricity for more than a dozen families living off the grid. Designed and built by MIT startup Altaeros Energies, the turbine known as BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine will hover at an altitude of 1,000 feet for 18 months, catching air currents that are five to eight times more powerful than winds on the ground.

The tethered turbines are capable of generating exponentially greater volumes of energy than their earthbound cousins due to the greater wind velocity at the high altitudes where they would be deployed.

There are a lot of questions to be answered about durability and maintenance, sky congestion etc., but the concept has a lot of advantages.  

Portability and low installation cost are two great pluses, making it more doable to relocate the turbines if it is discovered that they have been located where they pose a hazard either to aviation or wildlife. The turbines seem ideal for deployment in emergency situations.

Will we one day see private turbines hovering over electric car dealerships and advertising big sales while keeping the lights on down below? Perhaps, not my favorite scenario, but it's almost inevitable.

Meanwhile, Deep Water Wind has just introduced a different kind of floating wind farm.  In the first ever off-shore wind project to locate in the Pacific Ocean, Deep Water Wind plans to deploy five floating platforms, each supporting a single operating turbine, fifteen miles off the coast at Coos Bay, Oregon.

It is hoped that this solution will make it practical to locate wind farms far offshore in the Pacific Ocean where ocean depths make it impossible to anchor stationary turbines as is possible along the much shallower Atlantic coastline. Similar technology is apparently already in use in experiments off the coast of Portugal.

Despite all the effort to keep the U.S. dependent on dirty and dangerous energy sources, it's nice to be reminded from time to time that those industries are fighting a losing battle against advancing clean technologies.

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