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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

NASA Takes a Look at the Jet Stream

NASA Takes a Look at the Jet Stream to Get 50 Times More Wind Power
Susan Kraemer

NASA aerospace engineer Mark Moore is using a $100,000 federal grant to research what it will take to create a jet stream-based wind industry 30,000 feet above the ground.

The reason the US government is interested in developing the jet stream is that up there, winds blow consistently at 150 miles per hour, so futuristic satellite-based wind turbines or kite-type turbines such as those from Kitegen and Magenn flying at that altitude have the potential to generate 50 times the gigawatts that ground-based turbines can. So far, the early Magenn prototype flies at 1,000 feet.

“At 2,000 feet, there is two to three times the wind velocity compared to ground level,” Moore said. “The power goes up with the cube of that wind velocity, so it’s eight to 27 times the power production just by getting 2,000 feet up, and the wind velocity is more consistent.”

50 times greater energy density

Higher still: 30,000 feet is where this new resource will play out. If you can send turbines further up, to 30,000 feet, into the jet stream, “instead of 500 watts per meter for ground-based wind turbines, you’re talking about 20,000, 40,000 watts per square meter,” Moore said. “That’s very high energy density and potentially lower cost wind energy because of the 50-plus fold increase in energy density.”

Moore has undertaken the wind-power study to streamline the development of R&D and to reduce friction between competitors for airspace. As more kite-type wind turbines are moving from the pie-in-the sky idea to the deployment stage, one entity needs to develop a plan that makes it possible to coexist in the same airspace; only NASA has that kind of experience.

That means dealing with current Federal Aviation Administration regulations and with those that might be necessary to accommodate an airspace that includes manned aircraft, the unmanned aircraft in the future, plus wind-borne energy turbines. The jet stream is very useful to commercial airlines, because the much greater wind speeds greatly reduce their need for fuel.

One solution? Site future potential jet-stream-based wind farms in little-traveled areas of the jet stream over the ocean.

“Offshore deployment of these airborne systems probably makes the most sense in terms of both airspace and land use”, says Moore, “because there is little to no demand for low altitude flight over oceans 12 miles offshore.”

His research also involves some of the core capabilities of NASA in aeronautics, composite materials and air space management. So leaders in this area of the wind power industry, as well as other government agencies, including the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, have been working with NASA on the research.

“They welcome this study because they’ve never dealt with flying systems and NASA has,” Moore said. “You can’t come up with advanced concepts until you understand the requirements well, and frankly, I don’t think anybody understands the requirements well.”

As we catapult into a real clean energy future, the sky is the limit.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

NASA - The Frontier Is Everywhere

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