Not to be left flailing in the breeze, recent advances in harnessing wind energy are also presenting major disruptive potentials to conventional power generation such as coal and diesel, and in the process, are rendering green-agenda benefits obsolete in the face of short and long-term renewable-economic gain. Two companies in particular, Makani Power of Alameda, CA and Kite Gen of Milan, Italy, are taking two approaches to harnessing high-altitude wind. Each company is banking on flying tethered turbines through dynamic windstreams, transferring the energy generated through their tethers. Makani says that its own flying generator sweeps through far more high-energy wind than a traditional stationary turbine would capture. Kite Gen’s current theoretical designs include a set of 12 kite generators that could produce up to one gigawatt of power, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional coal-fired plant. Both companies are well down the path of realizing an idea that has profound implications to how we think about wind as a renewable resource. Part of the problems of conventional wind-turbines include environmental concerns, NIMBY-ism (at least if your backyard has a view), and more practically, resolving the technical trade-off of getting the electricity from windy areas to the national electric grid. By developing methods of effectively bringing the wind to the grid, Makani and Kite Gen are examples of real innovation at work. If successful, both companies may eliminate the need for coal and diesel generated electricity entirely, based not on a green revolution, but simply on economic common sense.
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