Winging it for Alternative Energy in California Cow Patches

By Rebecca Horne | March 30, 2010 2:16 pm

Makani Power is a San Francisco Bay Area based alternative energy start-up that seeks to provide renewable energy from high-altitude wind. In this compilation image, a computer-controlled, high-performance wing prototype is tethered to a flexible cable, attached here to a re-purposed aerial ladder truck. This test shows how the wing can access wind energy with a small footprint, and without the supporting material required by wind turbines.

Makani Power staff photographer Andrea Dunlap reflects: “I spend a lot of time sitting in fields waiting for the wind to be right for the engineers to fly things. Airtime can be anywhere from a minute to thirty hours. I love that we are sharing this testing space with so many other users of the land—farmers, cattle, birds, kite surfers and an entire energy infrastructure of traditional wind turbines and transmission lines. I go to each test site in eager anticipation of a day spent watching wind, clouds, sky and surf. As the sun sets and the wind dies down for the night we pack up and tuck our kites away until next time.”

Courtesy Andrea Dunlap/Makani Power

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
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  • C.W. Stevenson

    How many bird does it killl in a day?

  • http://tispaquin.blogspot.com Doug Watts

    How many birds and bats are killed?

    This can be ascertained quantitatively by looking on the ground for them.

  • R. Anderson

    Bird kills is about the least interesting question you could possibly ask about this system. How many birds do cars kill a day? Buildings? Whatever the answer is here – and it’s almost certain “none”, it’s just irrelevant in the scheme of things, especially when measured against the problems this technology can mitigate regarding pollution, climate change, and oil dependence.

  • Clarence

    I have no idea what this picture shows. A model airplane flying in a circle ?. How can that produce any power ?

  • Michael

    The circle is the “wing” which spins and is connected to a ladder truck.

    From the article:

    In this compilation image, a computer-controlled, high-performance wing prototype is tethered to a flexible cable, attached here to a re-purposed aerial ladder truck.

  • http://www.airbornewindenergy.com John Oyebanji

    For those who seek to understand Airborne Wind Energy Technology, there is the Yahoo Technical Group by the name – AirborneWindEnergy for those advancing the rapid development of Airborne Wind Energy Conversion Systems as distinct from the conventional hard towered WindMills and turbines.

  • RickW

    R. Anderson says:
    “Bird kills is about the least interesting question you could possibly ask about this system. How many birds do cars kill a day? Buildings? Whatever the answer is here – and it’s almost certain “none”, it’s just irrelevant in the scheme of things, especially when measured against the problems this technology can mitigate regarding pollution, climate change, and oil dependence.”
    Sadly it’s true. But, is it necessary to devise things such as buildings, cars, turbines, et al, that pose inherent dangers to some who have little or no choice in the matter, so that others can benefit?
    I mean, the Tarsands in Northern Alberta are contaminating the waters (as well as consuming inordinate amounts of H2O) to the point where “exotic” cancers are showing up in the native population, and deformaties are showing up in fish species. The natives are victims for the pleasure and profit of society. Is this right?
    Or are we just too lazy to take these things into consideration?

  • R. Anderson

    Clarence: it is essentially a model airplane (glider) flying in a circle, yes. And it is confusing why you would want to do that. But the answer is: because you can generate large amounts of power that way very economically. There are two ways to extract power from the system: 1) by putting turbines on-board (think of propellers in reverse, adding drag instead of supplying thrust) and bringing the electricity down through the tether, or 2) by pulling a load on the ground, as the fast-flying glider generates large lifting forces. Why this instead of a familiar wind turbine? Two of the biggest reasons: you can access stronger and more constant winds at higher altitudes, and a tether is very inexpensive compared to a large steel tower that holds up a turbine.

    RickW: This technology will mitigate the problems you mention with the oil industry. As long as consumers demand power, it will be generated. Folks like those at Makani are working very hard to try to lower the negative impacts of the technology that can be used to supply that demand. Be thankful that there are creative engineers like this willing to take a risk, rather than just take a high-paying job at an oil firm.

  • http://xhybrids.com/hho_complete_hydrogen_system_trucks.html Darius Waskowsky

    Greedy Corporations, Bad Policies and the tumultuous state of affairs in the Middle East has oil prices on a steady rise and this is impacting all of us with no indication of improvement on the horizon.

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About Rebecca Horne

Rebecca Horne (http://rebeccahornephotography.com) is an artist, multi-platform freelance writer, and award-winning photography director. She launched Visual Science for Discover.com in March 2010. She also writes about science and photography for The WallStreet Journal. You can reach her at rh@rebeccahornephotography.com.

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