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Here in the next few days, I'll finally be putting my "2020 Vision" plan in print -- the one that incorporates all the ideas generated from the diaries on energy, transportation, etc.

But in the meantime, here's a little article on a way of producing energy from wind that's different from the usual towering windmill -- and perhaps better suited to areas without strong surface winds: energy from kites.


High-altitude kites could be used to generate clean energy at a cost comparable with that of polluting power stations, researchers claim.

The "laddermill" design is a set of kites flown in a train.  If you've ever tried to set a kite altitude record (something I obsessed over in my youth), you've tried this experiment and seen how trains of kites can generate a lot more lift in tandem than they can on their own.

And it seems they generate a lot more power than a single windmill.

They claim one Laddermill could generate 100 megawatts of electricity, compared with only a few megawatts from a conventional wind turbine.

Now, this system isn't without its own risks.  First off, the kite stack soars 30,000 feet into the sky, so that makes it dead space for air travel.  Secondly it's, well, 30,000 feet in the sky.  Meaning that, should it tumble, the mess of 400 kites will be spread out over 6 miles.  I don't have any data on the cable width or craft weight, but I doubt there'd be any real hazard from falling materials.  But you'd still want to work this in an area where there was some free space downwind from the base of the stack.

Personally, I can see one of these things being beautiful.  Think of 400 kites in all colors of the rainbow, soaring up into the heavens and turning into a faint line high above.  Now think of that generating as much power as a mid-sized natural gas plant or small coal plant.

Sign me up.

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 03:52 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  how do they generate electricity? (none)
    Windmills generate electricity by turning, which then turns other parts and elctronicy mumbo-jumbo, and poof, you have power. But a kite just flies, right? How do you get power when it's just hanging up in the air and not turning or spinning or something?

    I realize my question is highly advanced, so please try to parse my technical language as best you can.

  •  i read that yesterday too (none)
    Pretty interesting.  It seems the height issues could be a substantial problem.  
    I also just read today that the wind farm in Medicine Bow, WY is going to be adding a new 2.5MW wind turbine that will be 410 feet tall - not only the tallest turbine in the state, but I think probably the tallest man made structure of any kind.
  •  Wouldn't windmills be terribly more efficient? (none)
    How would one do regular maintenance on the kites flying 30k above the earth?

    We don't go out and hire journalists and propagandize and lie and put people on payroll so that they'll say what you want. - Donald Rumsfeld

    by The past is over on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 03:47:38 PM PST

    •  a 30,000 foot ladder... (none)
      ...and a very brave maintenance worker.
      •  I saw a video once (none)
        of the guy who changed the lightbulb on the top of the Empire State Building. I got queezy just watching it! He said it helped not to look down...

        We don't go out and hire journalists and propagandize and lie and put people on payroll so that they'll say what you want. - Donald Rumsfeld

        by The past is over on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 03:55:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  You don't (none)
      When you need service, you reel it in, fix the problem, and send it aloft again.  I would expect that you would have several of these trains flying in the same area, with shared ground resources.  

      The advantage these things have over land-based windmills is the constancy and velocity of wind at altitude.  The reason that people keep building larger windmills is not just to get a longer blade, but to get it higher -- it's breezier up there!


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 03:52:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  avoiding flight paths (none)
        isn't part of the higher turbines to also avoid the typical flight patterns of the birds?  One of the advancements in the techonology has been moving the turbines away from the crest of hills and increasing the height, slowing the rotation of the blades, all to prevent bird deaths.
      •  I wonder (none)
          If you used this technology in areas, like mountain pass areas, where the wind is forced through narrow gaps and in turn the velocity increases, if you would have to go that high.  These passes act like a wind funnel, quite consistent and potent.  Just a guess, but I bet the wind speed would be quite high without having to go 30000 feet, which may address some potential problems.  If these kites are more efficent than windmills, you could be onto something.
          Any details on cost, compared with windmills?

        Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you. Jean-Paul Sartre

        by Stevo on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 03:59:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  that's the goal (none)
      That's the point of this technology is to achieve efficiency through higher power density that is achievable through increased altitude.
  •  blog? (none)

    where are you gonna be doing your wrap up of ideas?

    blog?

    kos?

    "You will determine whether rage or reason guides the United States in the struggle to come. You will choose whether we are known for revenge or compassion. Yo

    by AmericanHope on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 03:59:48 PM PST

    •  Here, I expect (none)
      Since no one.  Ever.  Never.  Has posted a single reply at my blog, I expect I'll do it here.

      I'll likely post a copy over there, as I've already discovered to my horror, that dkos is not an eternal backup of your text.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 04:07:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hmm... (none)
    I see a few problems here. While the article flatly states that one Laddermill could generate 100 MW of electricity, elsewhere a direct quote from the inventor says that a flock of hundreds of these could provide all the electricity for a city the size of Seattle. I suspect that the writer confused the performance of the flock of hundreds with the performance of just one. After all, a 100 MW generator is a really hefty piece of machinery, and concentrating all that power on one cable requires some impressive technology.

    There are lots of new technologies that look fabulous when first proposed, and are then shot down by some stupid little problem. In the 50s, the word was that nuclear power would be "too cheap to meter". For the last thirty years people have been promising that solar cells will become cost competitive "in just five years". Then, of course, there are all the promises of "clean coal power" (fluidized beds were a great-looking possibility for a while). There's also tidal power, wave power, and of course the ever-elusive fusion power.

    I'm not trying to throw cold water on this idea; we should definitely fund this effort and see how it checks out. And if it turns out halfway promising, we should continue to develop it until we're sure that it won't work -- or it actually pans out.

    My point is that it's not yet time to move into an all-electric home. There have been so many honeymoons that ended badly.

    •  Already there (none)
      I've been living in an all-electric home for years (okay, with a supplemental wood stove).  Just recently added a patch of solar shingles.  If these guys hold up well for another year or two, I may redo the whole roof.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 04:19:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  the house I gew up in (none)
        was all electric, with wood stove.  It was also designed for passive solar and worked quite well in the cold wyoming winters.
        •  Wish I could say as much (none)
          My house is a log home that was started by a retired steam locomotive engineer.  He was a much better carpenter than me, and a self-taught blacksmith who made his own brackets and fittings.

          Unfortunately, he was also in his 70's when he started this thing, and he got too ill to finish.  I took over and... well, almost five years later it's still not finished.  Year by year, I'm tackling the problems, and I think I'm actually fixing more than I break, but it's a close race.  I'm a long, long way from having this plave really well insulated or finished on the inside.  Realistically, I should have made those investments long before I started sticking shiny shingles on my roof, but sometimes you have to give into the desire for keen gear.


          TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

          by Mark Sumner on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 04:30:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  50-100kw, acccodring to inventor (none)
      The inventor lists the "largest laddermill" as a 50-100kw size.  It's unclear how many kites are involved in such a laddermill.


      TwoTaboos -- Politics and Religion.

      by Mark Sumner on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 04:21:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  i don't think anybody (none)
      is advocating you go out and buy it for your house.  It's just an interesting concept about harnessing more power from the wind.

      Devilstower has done some very interesting diaries regarding energy policy.  I'm very interested in new energy technologies as well as the ramifications of our existing technologies.  I love seeing someone find some new possibility and thinking about what could be done with it.

  •  Put them offshore (none)
    avoid the falling objects problem.
    Thanks for the fun diary.

    Might and Right are always fighting In our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning. Might can hardly keep from grinning. -Clarence D

    by Myrkury on Sun Jan 02, 2005 at 05:35:42 PM PST

  •  A glimpse of one in operation (none)
  •  Awesome diary! (none)
    Devilstower, I plan on working on an energy roundup diary and have been keeping my eyes on fellow diarists who are working a similar angle. I've just subscribed to your diary since it's clear that you've got a lot going on here. Thanks for all your work--it's deeply appreciated!

    Freedom without justice is oppression. Justice without freedom is tyrrany. Freedom and justice, together and balanced, is salvation.

    by lilithvf1998 on Mon Jan 03, 2005 at 12:33:29 PM PST

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