The turbines are helium-filled, blimp-like floating bodies that are tied to a conductive tether that keeps them in place and transmits power. The invention gave Altaeros the first price ($125,000) in ConocoPhillips 2011 Energy Prize Competition.
The idea of a floating wind turbine is that it can harness winds that are stronger and not disrupted by buildings on the ground. They are also cheaper to manufacture, install and maintain than their traditional counterparts.
ConocoPhillips said that the turbine could be particularly useful in remote locations, where getting traditional energy infrastructure up-and-running can be costly and slow. According to the company, there is "up to eight times as much power" available at higher altitudes than on the ground. Altaeros said that the ultimate goal is to tap into the jet streams for power, which have winds that often exceed 100 MPH in velocity.
However, the turbines would have to float in an altitude greater than 21,000 feet to reach jet streams. At 2000 feet, the turbines can harvest the power of winds that are 2.5 times stronger than those 350 feet ground turbines can reach, Altaeros said.