Every greenie loves wind turbines for their clean, renewable power, but some folks think the massive metal poles muddy pristine landscapes. Enter the latest tech being tested: flying turbines. Unlike their traditional counterparts, which are stuck in the soil, floating turbines are tethered to the ground by cables and hover up to 30,000 feet in the air.

Sky WindPower Corporation in the U.S. and Canada’s Magenn Power are just two companies looking to the heavens to capture wind and create energy. “We have all the power we need right over our heads to supply the US electrical demand,” says Len Shepard, Sky WindPower’s CEO. “Floating turbines will allow us to solve the world’s energy problems in a nonpolluting way.”

Airborne turbines generate more electricity than traditional designs because jet-stream wind is stronger and more consistent than ground-level gusts. While grounded turbines reach their peak about 30 percent of the time, Sky and Magenn expect that flying ones will operate at full capacity 70 to 90 percent of the time, depending on their altitude and location. The devices can also be moved to new areas when wind dies down.

Though the technology seems promising, skies are not clear just yet. During storms, the electricity-transferring cables would basically become lightning rods (think Ben Franklin’s experiment with kite and key), so they would need to be taken down during inclement weather. And due to its especially high altitude, Sky’s Flying Electric Generator could interfere with air and avian traffic, though Shepard says the devices would be flown in restricted air space.

Despite the snags, tests for both products have seen encouraging results: Sky hopes to have a successful demonstration within two years, and Magenn expects to market its product, the Power Rotor System, by 2010. The technology may seem futuristic now, but when it comes to wind power, the sky’s the limit.

Story by Jessica A Knoblauch. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Sky sprockets in flight
Because wind turbines floating in the air are cooler and more productive.