Altaeros calls its technology, BAT (Buoyant Airborne Turbine) and claims it is capable of producing twice as much power as a comparable ground-based turbine. However, even if that turns out to be true, the cost of energy supplied by Altaeros’ system will be more expensive than conventional versions. The company projects about 18 cents per kilowatt hour, but ground-based wind farms can usually offer four-to-five cents per kilowatt hour. No word how they’re handling that helium shortage.
The company hopes this limited run will demonstrate the benefits of its approach. The winds at ground level come and go, but at 1,000 to 2,000 feet, the wind is more or less constant and several times stronger than we feel down here. Putting wind turbines in the sky also appeases people who find ground-based turbines visually unappealing. Lastly, fewer birds fly at those altitudes, so they’re less likely to get caught up in the spinning blades.
The BAT is being targeted at remote areas where energy it usually very expensive in the first place, hence the Fairbanks test. Only minimal ground infrastructure is needed for BAT to work. The power is transmitted down a high-strength conductive tether, where it can then be directed into the local grid. It’s going to cost Altaeros $1.3 million to conduct the 18-month flight, but it could prove the technology has a future.
If given the choice between a network of off-grid diesel generators or a few BAT airships, Altaeros is hoping remote communities will go with the airships.