Similar to, perhaps, all renewables, economists have long worried about the feasibility of wind energy amidst a market saturated by coal, oil, and natural gas. For years, the wind industry has scrambled to claim the best properties across the United States, such as remote prairies and mountain ridges that would make significant wind speeds, 200 feet above ground, accessible. However, new developments in technology are allowing the wind industry to take enormous strides which may soon position them to compete with the market prices of conventional energy on the national scale. New innovations have enabled turbines to be built taller and with longer blades. Because of this, vast new opportunities in terms of locations for wind farms have opened up. Therefore, locations which were previously passed because wind speeds at 200 feet were not strong enough can now be reconsidered for turbines which achieve between 300 and 400 feet!
For example, in 2008, the state of Michigan had no wind farms at all, but recent construction has now established enough machines to yield more than 1,000 megawatts and power hundreds of thousands of homes. In fact, in a few areas of the country, wind energy has already seized the competitive edge with prices falling as low as 4 cent per kilowatt-hour, dramatically cheaper than any conventional forms of energy. Still, prices for wind power remain relatively high throughout most of the country, and the best prices tend only to exist in regions where the prices of diesel and other options are very high, such as in Alaska
Having recognized this, companies such as Altaeros Energies have chosen Alaska as the locale to pilot their new wind energy collection technologies. Altaeros will soon embark on the first commercial effort to launch a buoyant airborne turbine. This turbine will consist of a white helium-filled inner-tube-like-balloon which will surround a rotor and float at 1,000 feet in the air. Through cable transmission, hope are that the turbine will feed the electricity necessary to power more than a dozen homes. Although such a feat many not seem practical for national implementation yet, it is tremendously hopeful to witness so many new businesses jumping on the opportunity to provide an alternative that is both cheaper and greener.
By Erin Shaughnessey