When it comes to wind turbines, how high can you truly go?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology-founded firm Altaeros Energies is eyeing 1,000 feet — that's about 275 feet taller than the current record holder for tallest wind turbine, the Vestas V164-8.0-MW prototype in Østerild, Denmark. A difference of under 300 feet might not seem like all that big of deal but keep in mind that the higher the altitude, the significantly stronger and more consistent the winds.

Elaborates the team at Altaeros Energies team:

High altitude winds are more consistent and average around twice the velocity, with five to eight times the power density, than those found near ground-level. In the U.S. alone, over 60% of potential wind sites for tower-mounted systems were found to be uneconomical.
Capable of generating twice as much energy as traditional tower-mounted wind turbines that cap off at several hundred feet (the blades of the Vestas V164-8.0-MW stretch to 720-feet-high), the Altaeros Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT) is anything but traditional as you can probably gather. Composed of a lightweight, horizontal-axis turbine fitted within an inflatable, helium-filled shell that can be rapidly deployed (ground station included) via shipping container to remote and disaster-stricken areas minus logistical headaches and any sort of costly environmental impact, this floating power plant is anchored by high-strength tethers that not only safely moor the unit but also send power back down to the ground station where it's conditioned.

Following a successful trial run in Maine at 500 feet, the BAT will be deployed to a golf course in Scotland site just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, as part of a $1.3 million partnership with the Alaska Energy Authority. Once up and floating, the unit will be capable of generating enough juice to power over a dozen homes. While Fairbanks will be the site of the 18-month commercial demonstration project, the team at Altaeros Energies ultimately hopes to deploy BAT models to much more remote communities that are partially or completely powered by costly — and dirty — diesel generators. 

“The BAT can be transported and setup without the need for large cranes, towers, or underground foundations that have hampered past wind projects," explains Altaeros Energies CEO, Ben Glass. Target clients include remote and island communities; oil and gas, mining, and telecommunication firms; and disaster relief organizations.

Fantastic stuff although one not-so-tiny concern that immediately comes to mind: unlike high-altitude winds, helium isn't exactly free and unlimited.

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

A blimp with a mission: Helium-filled wind turbine to take float in Alaska [Video]
Fairbanks will be the demo deployment site for BAT (Buoyant Altitude Turbine), an inflatable wind turbine floating 1,000 feet above the earth.