Google X, the developers who designed Google Glass, are now getting into renewable energy, proposing an airborne wind turbine that uses 90 percent less material than current designs.
Astro Teller, a top executive at Google X, the search engine's innovation division, believes that his group's call for a wind turbine in the air could be a major development in renewable energy.
"If you had a long tether attached to blades, you can generate power by this specifically designed tether. This technology exists. We believe there is some possibility, because this is so much radically cheaper and easier to deploy than a normal wind turbine, that it may have an important part to play in the future of world energy production. That's the technology story," Teller said.
Google recently acquired Makani Power, a small wind power company who will be developing the project with the Google X group. Ever since the search engine giant purchased the start-up renewable energy company, rumors have been rampant that Google would so announce a new project based on wind power. This project would fit that bill.
The idea involves flying a turbine in circles 800-1,950 feet up in the air, where winds are steadier and stronger than on the ground. Because most of the power in a traditional turbine is generated at the tips, these new generators would consist of a pair of such tips mounted to a wing. The wing flies in vertical circles, attached to the ground by a tether, which both carries the traction force of the wing, and transmits the electricity generated to the ground. A computer uses the flaps on the wing to control the flight.
"You only get power through tips of blades, just circulating in space. What if the little tips circle in space without the [extra weight] - wouldn't that be awesome? If you had a long tether attached to blades, you can generate power by this specifically designed tether," Teller said.
It will also be possible to use similar wings in offshore areas, where the wing would be stowed atop a buoy until wind conditions are favorable. Then, the wing would take off like a helicopter, fly up to 1,300 feet high, generate electricity and then land once more on the buoy.
Makani has already unveiled its Airborne Wind Turbine, which is likely the model on which the new Google X-sponsored idea would be based.
The rotors for the airborne turbine are a special hybrid design that act as propellers when the wind dies down, keeping the wing flying until the wind picks up again or the turbine lands.
The last project unveiled by the Google X team was Project Loon. This goal of that project is to build and fly solar-powered balloons that will bring wi-fi signals to remote areas of Africa and Asia Pacific.