Is the sky the limit for wind power?

Jun 15, 2009

In the future, will wind power tapped by high-flying kites light up New York? A new study by scientists at the Carnegie Institution and California State University identifies New York as a prime location for exploiting high-altitude winds, which globally contain enough energy to meet world demand 100 times over. The researchers found that the regions best suited for harvesting this energy match with population centers in the eastern U.S. and East Asia, but fluctuating wind strength still presents a challenge for exploiting this energy source on a large scale.

Using 28 years of data from the National Center for Environmental Prediction and the Department of Energy, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of and Cristina Archer of California State University, Chico, compiled the first-ever global survey of energy available at high altitudes in the atmosphere. The researchers assessed potential for wind power in terms of "wind power density," which takes into account both wind speed and air density at different altitudes.

"There is a huge amount of energy available in high altitude winds," said coauthor Ken Caldeira. "These winds blow much more strongly and steadily than near-surface winds, but you need to go get up miles to get a big advantage. Ideally, you would like to be up near the jet streams, around 30,000 feet."

Jet streams are meandering belts of fast winds at altitudes between 20 and 50,000 feet that shift seasonally, but otherwise are persistent features in the atmosphere. Jet stream winds are generally steadier and 10 times faster than winds near the ground, making them a potentially vast and dependable source of energy. Several technological schemes have been proposed to harvest this energy, including tethered, kite-like that would be lofted to the altitude of the jet streams. Up to 40 megawatts of electricity could be generated by current designs and transmitted to the ground via the tether.

"We found the highest wind power densities over Japan and eastern China, the eastern coast of the United States, southern Australia, and north-eastern Africa," said lead author Archer. "The median values in these areas are greater than 10 kilowatts per square meter. This is unthinkable near the ground, where even the best locations have usually less than one kilowatt per square meter."

Included in the analysis were assessments of high altitude wind energy for the world's five largest cities: Tokyo, New York, Sao Paulo, Seoul, and Mexico City. "For cities that are affected by polar jet streams such as Tokyo, Seoul, and New York, the high-altitude resource is phenomenal," said Archer. "New York, which has the highest average high-altitude wind power density of any U.S. city, has an average wind power density of up to 16 kilowatts per square meter."

Tokyo and Seoul also have high wind power density because they are both affected by the East Asian jet stream. Mexico City and Sao Paulo are located at tropical latitudes, so they are rarely affected by the polar jet streams and just occasionally by the weaker sub-tropical jets. As a result they have lower densities than the other three cities.

"While there is enough power in these high altitude winds to power all of modern civilization, at any specific location there are still times when the winds do not blow," said Caldeira. Even over the best areas, the wind can be expected to fail about five percent of the time. "This means that you either need back-up power, massive amounts of energy storage, or a continental or even global scale electricity grid to assure power availability. So, while high-altitude wind may ultimately prove to be a major energy source, it requires substantial infrastructure."

Source: Carnegie Institution

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User comments : 10

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Shootist
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 15, 2009
If a piddling amount of CO2 (.03% of total) can put the planet's weather in paroxysm, slowing down the wind is sure to have some dire, unforeseen, toll on our, oh so fragile, atmospheric weather and eco(il)logical systems.
holoman
2.5 / 5 (4) Jun 15, 2009
Wind is un-reliable as pointed out by the article.

Space based solar power from LEO now being looked
at by DARPA, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman,
and others which has 24 x 7 power.
goldengod
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 15, 2009
If it's an available energy source that can be tapped it will be up for grabs by the first company that can figure out how to do it.



Soylent
1 / 5 (3) Jun 16, 2009
Wind is un-reliable as pointed out by the article.


High altitude wind is quite reliable. Up at the jet streams it's near 70% capacity factor. If the week to week and seasonal variation isn't too bad it might be remotely viable, unlike conventional wind power.

That's not great because that 30% down-time is unscheduled downtime, unlike any other existing power source on the grid.

Space based solar power from LEO now being looked

at by DARPA, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman,

and others which has 24 x 7 power.


I haven't seen any scheme for geostationary solar power which makes the remotest bit of financial sense even if the launch cost to GEO was free(instead of the current cost of ~$11 million per tonne) and even if you assume the solar panels were free.
Soylent
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 16, 2009
If it's an available energy source that can be tapped it will be up for grabs by the first company that can figure out how to do it.


I'm sorry to say, but in the real world success hinges as much if not more on if you can figure your way through the byzantine maze of regulation and scratch the backs of enough politicians to recieve pork and/or artifically stiffle your competitors than it does whether your plan is sound or not.
Birger
4.5 / 5 (2) Jun 16, 2009
For more in-depth articles of the concept, see New Scientist: "Flying windmills could harness the jet stream", 26 July 2007 and "Reach for the sky" 23 September 2000.
New Scientist also presents a different wind power idea in "High flyers", 17 May 2008.
DaveMart
2.5 / 5 (2) Jun 16, 2009
Practical availability of 95% is very good for a renewable resource.
The problems of smoothing intermittency would be far less than for solar.
The issue with solar is that although it is predictable, even at the latitude of the Mohave desert incidence is much, much less in winter than in summer, and so proposals for it's use for year round base load would involve simply massive storage requirements for months not hours, or a fantastic level of overbuild.
Although I checked the original papers I did not see any info on the average duration of low power events - several hour long intermittencies are a lot easier to deal with than one multi-day event, and would in fact need fairly trivial amounts of back-up.
Those concerned about climatic effects should check the paper - effects seem likely to be relatively trivial at any projected level of output from this source.
Google is investigating high altitude wind through Makani Power.
Lord_jag
5 / 5 (1) Jun 19, 2009
The place where solar makes the most sense is the place where it's most needed. Hot climates like California or Florida. Places where the greatest need for power is when it's the hotest out and people need their air conditioners. It's also the time when the most power is available from solar. If we can jsut take the top off the peak power use, efficient baseload stations could provide the rest.

It's not a complete solution, but it's a good place to start.

If wind stations can supply cheap energy at certain times, people will be more than ready to use more energy. We're good at it. I already have a smart meter on my home that changes prices throughout the day. With a little work I could make power outlets that come on when the power drops to cheap prices...

Like say... an airconditioner that drops the temp to 60 degrees when theres abundant cheap electricity, but allows it to creep to 85 when it's expensive. I would liek to think that on a well insulated house that would take most of the day.
mscir
3.5 / 5 (2) Jun 20, 2009
If a piddling amount of CO2 (.03% of total) can put the planet's weather in paroxysm, slowing down the wind is sure to have some dire, unforeseen, toll on our, oh so fragile, atmospheric weather and eco(il)logical systems.


We will also reduce pollution. Worldwide we dump so many tons of pollution into the atmosphere and oceans it's mind-numbing. If you don't care about CO2 please consider reading about how much we're polluting, then think about wind, solar and geothermal, and see if you don't agree they make sense and are a very smart alternative to the disgustingly dirty and primitive way we're living now. Right now we're polluting ourselves in every way imaginable, this is certainly not any way to run a beautiful garden planet!
Soylent
not rated yet Jun 23, 2009
We will also reduce pollution.


No. It will increase pollution.

You will have the pollution from solar panels(most processes are rather filthy and some panels contain arsenic or cadmium). You will have the pollution from trying to recycle the damned things when they become useless in 20-30 years, if anyone even bothers. You will have the pollution from the craptacular amounts of natural gas and coal you will burn to integrate piddling amounts of solar and wind energy into the grid. You will have the environmenal destruction from chopping down massive swaths of lands to criss-cross the nation with a massive array of transmission lines(typically large quantities of herbicides and men with chain saws are used to keep trees away from the power-lines). You will destroy sensitive desert areas with gargantuan solar farms, producing trivial amounts of energy. You will drench tremendous amounts of land with water in an attempt to create enough pumped hydro storage, but it will never be remotely enough.

In the end you will fail and we will go on to the biggest coal binge mankind has ever known.

The opposition to nuclear is not because it is expensive and dangerous; it is because it's cheap, reliable and safe.

Amory Lovins expressed this point of view best: "Complex technology of any sort is an assault on human dignity. It would be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy, because of what we might do with it."

Worldwide we dump so many tons of pollution into the atmosphere and oceans it's mind-numbing.


And yet I get subjected to far less environmental pollutants than if I had lived at any other time in human history. It's imediately apparent when you look at the third world, where smoke inhalation from cooking fires is a major cause of death and where clean water is largely unavailable, where natural arsenic and other pollutants in the water supply often go undetected and do not get removed. Exposure to mold(several produce carcinogens) and all sorts of microbial pathogens has similarly been reduced.

If you don't care about CO2 please consider reading about how much we're polluting...


I have.

...then think about wind, solar and geothermal, and see if you don't agree they make sense...


I don't. I came to the conclusion that the people who support "green energy" fall into four categories. People who don't know better, people who have come to the conclusion that it is worthless and therefor an energy source they want to support(Green peace, Earth first, Club of Rome and other "proactive malthusians"). And with the most political clout, parties with economic interests ranging from oil companies that wish to sell natural gas(the gas company Enron was one of the worlds leaders in wind energy; Shell is also a major supporter of wind energy) and government regulated monopolies that hope to soak the rate payer(building long power lines to a useless little solar station in the middle of nowhere can be enormously profitable even if not a single kWh ever flows through it) to people who make wind turbines and solar panels and wish their inclusion into the grid to be mandated.

...and are a very smart alternative to the disgustingly dirty and primitive way we're living now.


Just like its medicinal counterpart it is known as alternative energy because it either hasn't been shown to work properly or it has shown to not work properly. Wind and solar are the oldest, most primitive forms of energy we have. The dirtiest, most inefficient coal-fired steam ship kicked the snot out of the most advanced sailing vessels.

... this is certainly not any way to run a beautiful garden planet!


You seem to yearn for man "before the fall", when man "lived in harmony with nature". After taking a short look at a contemporary hunter-gatherer socities; life was nasty, brutish and short, man lived not in harmony with nature but in constant opposition to it, tribal war was one of the leading causes of death. It seems more like a dystopia.

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