Harnessing wind energy at altitude ‘could be possible’

Generating energy from upper atmospheric winds could be possible according to feasibility studies from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia.

A team at the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering developed a small-scale prototype system with a novel winching subsystem alongside computer modelling.

Prior research has suggested that the power available in winds at altitudes greater than approximately 5km is at least 10 times that at ground level.

‘Conceptually, if a wind turbine can be built that negates the need for a tower we can generate renewable energy at a fraction of the current cost,’ said lead investigator Dr Dylan Thorpe of RMIT.

The team’s research shows that, by proper control of lightweight gliders, attached to a tethering cable extended into the atmosphere, energy can be extracted using a ground-based generator by variations in cable tension.

The researchers developed a small-scale prototype system, including a novel winching subsystem, noting that earlier research had shown that conventional winching systems were not suited to this application. A simulation of the prototype system was then devised, enabling the calculation of optimal trajectories for power generation cycles and the implementation of a heuristic system control.

‘Transitioning to a sustainable way of living is an absolute must and renewable energy is one part of this puzzle. As a mechanical engineer, I felt that I could contribute to this transition in a small way with research into harnessing wind energy at altitude,’ Thorpe said.