Ben Glass: The Idea of Flying Wind Turbines

"I think we're getting more of the smartest people in the world to focus on solving this kind of big global challenges as opposed to, you know, making the next Instagram, the next Twitter."

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Windräder kennt man, aber eigentlich müssten sie hoch oben in der Luft schweben, denn dort sind die Winde viel stärker. Warum setzt man sie also nicht auf eine Art Zeppelin? Ben Glass, Gründer und Geschäftsführer von Altaeros Energies aus den USA, erzählt seine Vision, wie man günstig saubere Energie für Gegenden produzieren könnte, in denen es an Infrastruktur mangelt. Wie genau soll das funktionieren und wie wird daraus ein Geschäft?

We all know wind turbines bound to the ground. But the higher you go up in the air, the stronger the winds get. So why not forget the tower and place the turbine on tethered blimps at high altitude? Ben Glass, founder and CEO of Altaeros Energies, Somerville MA (USA), has the vision to generate clean energy for rural areas with little infrastructure. How exactly does it work and what's the business idea behind it?

Das Interview entstand am Rande des Zukunftskonkgresses 2016 des 2bAHEAD ThinkTanks.

 
Jede Woche neu beim Stifterverband: 
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Autorin: Corina Niebuhr
Produktion: Webclip Medien Berlin
für den YouTube-Kanal des Stifterverbandes

Transkript des Videos

People start working on the really important problems. You know, the problems that have real global impact, real human impact.

I think we’re getting more of the smartest people in the world to focus on solving these kind of big global challenges as opposed to, you know, making the next Instagram, the next Twitter.

One very interesting area for me personally is kind of the nexus of energy and water and food and health. I think a lot of these are very interconnected. And it's just an area that personally I think is really interesting, there are a lot of exciting opportunities there.

I've got a lot of visions. Right now we're looking at really revolutionizing infrastructure for all of the developing world markets, rural areas, places that don't have the infrastructure that we kind of take for granted here in Germany or in the U.S., both in terms of access to energy, access to cheap energy, ideally clean energy, access to communication networks, access to the internet. So we're trying to make it a lot less expensive and a lot quicker to build up the infrastructure in those places. 

The idea behind the airborne wind turbine network to develop is to take the leverage all of the work of the last few decades that is gone to make wind turbines a very efficient, a very mature technology. So we take that and we combine it with this aerostat technology. So we're taking two kind of proven technologies bringing them together which opens up a whole new possibility in order to harvest the winds above what you can reach with a tower. The reason that we are interested in high altitude winds is because as you move up off the ground winds actually become much faster and much much more powerful. You kind of get a sense of this if you go and fly a kite, the higher you get it up there, the stronger the winds, the easier it is to keep aloft. That's also the same reason that wind turbines are getting bigger and bigger today, and they're putting them on taller and taller towers. It's to try to reach those strong consistent winds. So we decided let's just get rid off the tower, get rid off that foundation, let's kind of skip this incremental increase in height and just go all the way up there. 

We basically developed a tethered autonomous airborne platform. So think of the blimps or the zeppelins that you see flying above sports games. We take that same basic technology. We use kind of the industrial cousin of the blimps we used to see. They are called aerostats, and aerostats are essentially tethered baloons or tethered blimps. They've been used really for decades in a military setting to lift radar and other surveillance and communications equipment. So what we've done is we've taken that basic technology, and we've actually created an autopilot. We've automated all of the operation, so these systems can launch, they can land, they can fly without having to have any people there, anyone kind of in the loop controlling it.

There's certainly a lot of automation which is a form of artificial intelligence. That automation allows the system to kind of take all of the inputs from all of the sensors onboard. It allows it to communicate to some of the local and regional weather stations, and it runs through a number of algorithms to decide how to operate, whether it should launch, whether it should land, you know, where to fly, what altitude to fly at.

We generate electricity aloft, just like any other wind-turbine. We actually send that electricity, that power down to the ground via one of our tethers that has a conductive cable embedded in the tether. And, you know, at the end of the day we're just another generator. We're making systems that aren't really consumer-facing. They are pretty big industrial equipments or very much a B2B business. And our customers tend to be, you know, large utilities or industrial corporations.

In 10 years, you know, we'll hopefully have been wildly successful at deploying flying wind turbines all over the world and helping to build up a communication infrastructure that will bring the 3 billion people that don't have access to the internet online. And I think that, you know, my vision for Altaeros is that this is just the start and that we continue to drive for innovative solutions really to whatever the most pressing problems in 10 years are.