May 29 - Boston-based company Altaeros has developed a new wind power generator in the form of a giant balloon they say will offer a cheap renewable energy alternative to communities off the grid. Ben Gruber has more.
Its developers say it represents the future of wind power. A giant blimp wrapped around a turbine floating thousands of feet off the ground generating energy. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ADAM RYAN, CO-FOUNDER, ALTAEROS ENERGY, SAYING: "Instead of a big blimp shape we took the helium inflated fabric and turned it into this an aerodynamic duct that wraps around a conventional three blade wind turbine like you will see anywhere it the world." But what you don't see anywhere else in the world, according to Adam Ryan, co-founder of Altaeros Energy, is a turbine encased in a blimp. Its developer, Ben Glass, wanted to find a way to reach the powerful winds found at high altitudes without the costs associated with tall tower structures used in ground-based turbines. Glass says his high-flying blimp is capable of generating three times more power than conventional turbines. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BEN GLASS, CO-FOUNDER, ALTAEROS ENERGY, SAYING: "Wind speeds get much stronger as you get higher off the ground. And as the wind speed increases, that power that is actually available from the wind scales quite quickly. It scales with a cubic factor of that wind speed. So a two fold increase in the wind speed actually allows you to harness more energy, more power." (SOUNDBITE) (English) ADAM RYAN, CO-FOUNDER, ALTAEROS ENERGY, SAYING: "And what we are trying to do is instead of looking for where the sun or the winds are strong, is bringing cheap renewable energy anywhere in the world where folks are having trouble getting reliable energy." Ryan says Altaeros is focusing on a small design that can generate between 30 to 100 megawatts of energy, enough to power a small community in a remote location. He says the other important factor is developing a system that doesn't rely on sophisticated electronics or human supervision. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BEN GLASS, CO-FOUNDER, ALTAEROS ENERGY, SAYING: "And we have taken the approach that basically allows the system to direct itself into the wind. So without any input or without any control the aerodynamics of the system, just by the aerodynamic forces on the shroud and on the fins will direct it into the wind even as the wind direction changes." The balloon is also shaped in a way that maximizes wind flow through the turbine. The power generated is then conducted through one of the tethers that holds the blimp in place. Ryan believes his wind power blimps will prove a popular alternative to costly generators in remote locations or in disaster relief areas... And once they've proven themselves on a small scale, he says his high altitude balloons could eventually generate inexpensive power for cities all over the world.