Power generation in post-disaster areas and for remote development projects is often costly, can use unreliable fuel supplies, and may take too long to become active. To address this need, Altaeros Energies is currently testing the Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), which operates at 400-600 metres (1000-2000 feet) above the ground, and does not require the long and expensive construction associated with ground-based turbines. It is designed to power remote communities, off-grid industries, and areas hit by disasters, and can be moved anywhere to quickly create affordable and sustainable power.
Developed at MIT, Altaeros Energies is currently working with the Alaska Energy Authority to test the system in remote and turbulent areas of the North. When it becomes commercially available, it will supply a less expensive, more flexible, and significantly more efficient option for remote, sustainable power generation.
Wind generation at higher altitudes allows the BAT to take advantage of stronger and consistent winds than ground-based systems. This generates 5-8 times more power and reduces the installation and transport costs by up to 90% compared to traditional systems, which are often faced with fluctuating wind patterns.
The BAT is made of an inflatable helium shell that lifts a light-weight turbine. It is attached to the ground by conductive tethers. Crucially, the machine is autonomous and can be controlled remotely to optimize power generation and monitor its condition. It requires only periodic maintenance checks in line with traditional generation methods.
The BAT can withstand heavy precipitation, winds of up to 160 km/h (100 mph), and is protected against lightning strikes. In harsher conditions, it can be remotely lowered and docked, while continuing to generate power while on the ground. If one of the three tethering cables is cut or snaps, the others will work to lower the machine, while it automatically releases helium for a slow and controlled descent.
Additional buoyancy allows communications and monitoring equipment to be attached, making the BAT able to double as a phone and internet access point, a weather monitor, or a surveillance platform.
The BAT ships in two standard containers, and installation takes less than 24 hours from arrival to the beginning of power generation. This makes it an ideal solution for setting up emergency response programs for disaster areas, and as a sustainable solution in refugee and IDP camps.
It is not yet apparent how the company will deal with voltage conversion to ensure safe integration into existing power grids, and there is also the potential for sabotage in conflict areas, both from gun shots and vandals cutting the tethers. However, the benefits far out weigh the potential risks. We may very well be witnessing the birth of the next generation of off-grid power solutions.
For more information, visit the Altaeros Energies website, this article from io9, and this article from inhabitat. Click here for more articles from Innovate Development about off-grid power and lighting solutions.