It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a ... high-altitude flying wind turbine.
A company by the name of Altaeros Energies, borne from the labs at MIT, is poised to break the record for the highest wind turbine ever deployed, with plans to float an electricity-generating device at an altitude of 1,000 feet above a site south of Fairbanks, Alaska.
The blimp-like powerhouse, which Altaeros refers to as a Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), aims to improve on more conventional, tower-based turbines by tapping into the stronger, more consistent winds found at higher altitudes.
As an added benefit, Altaeros' CEO Ben Glass says in a release, the "BAT can be transported and setup without the need for large cranes, towers, or underground foundations that have hampered past wind projects.” This makes it ideal for isolated communities where electricity is either nonexistent or prohibitively expensive.
In remote parts of Alaska, for instance, where the BAT may be deployed, a significant amount of electricity currently comes from diesel generators at costs varying from 35 cents to $1 per kilowatt-hour. In contrast, Altaeros believes it can offer wind power at 18 cents per kilowatt-hour, the New York Times reports.
At that rate, power from the BAT would still be too expensive for most U.S. consumers, who pay an average of about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity across the board, but the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) argues Altaeros is not looking to serve people on large electric grids.
"Instead, its sweet spot is serving far-flung villages, military bases, mines, or disaster zones," writes IEEE, adding, "It can also lift communications equipment such as cellular transceivers or meteorological devices and other sensing equipment."
The company says its turbine is held aloft by a helium-filled shell that has been tested at winds up to 45 mph. It is anchored via high-strength tethers that transmit electricity back to the ground. According to the IEEE, the BAT has a production capacity of 30 kilowatts, enough to power around 12 homes.
Watch Altaeros' video about the BAT below: