11 April 2007

One Problem with Flying Wind Generators

Al Fin has reported on several types of flying wind generators, including the rotor design above, kite designs, and helium filled designs.

The promoters of these designs correctly state that by lifting your generator to where the strong winds are, the cost of generating large amounts of wind energy will decrease.

Unfortunately, in order for the power to be useful, the generators will need to be flown near large population centers. Since large numbers of aircraft typically share the airspace near large population centers, flying wind generators would represent a very real flight navigational hazard. It would be necessary to mount radio transponders on the flight mechanism so that air traffic controllers could route traffic around them.

As long as these generators are only designs on CAD files, or low altitude prototypes, there is no need to address the hazard. Once deployed, the positions of the tether and the generator/aircraft would have to be tracked continuously by ATC

Another thing that concerns me is the possibility of a "runaway generator," when a tether breaks, or a generator crashes--which will undoubtedly happen. There are probably other safety issues that have yet to be discovered.

In our eagerness to seize upon renewable sources of energy, we need to be sure that we are not creating new safety hazards in the name of the public good.

Update 12 April 07: The excellent Numberwatch points out that the weight of the cable would likely be too great to allow the generator to fly in the first place. Given all the functions the cable/tether would have to perform, and in the absence of suitably super-strong nano-materials available, Numberwatch is no doubt right--for now. At the rate that materials science is developing, however, I suspect that a superstrong, superconducting cable/tether will eventually be developed. At that time, my objections will need to be addressed--particularly if the two Texas grandfathers who are developing the flying car are successful.


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Blogger jeb said...

Thank you for the kind little accolade for Number Watch. I derive much enjoyment and edification from my daily visits to AL FIN. In this case, however, I believe you are far too optimistic. Even if (and it is a big if) you develop a super-strong, super-light, superconducting material (plus the equivalent for the magnetic circuits) and you solve the problems of aerodynamic stability (snaking etc.) you are left with one insurmountable design parameter. This is the electric field strength at the surface of the inner conductor. Separate air-insulated conductors would pose horrendous design and safety problems, while a low-voltage, gigantic-current system would be a nightmare at the two ends of the cable. Even if (and it is a very big if) you find a new insulating material of unimaginable dielectric strength, you would have to manufacture kilometres of cable with zero defects (such as gaseous voids and conducting particles). It is all, as the cliché has it, pie in the sky.

Friday, 13 April, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks for your comment, Jeb.

I agree that at this point the problems appear insurmountable. But it is at that point that true innovators are just getting started.

Friday, 13 April, 2007  

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