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Power Technology

Company Wants To Put Power Plants In the Sky 223

Posted by samzenpus
from the silver-powered-lining dept.
Zothecula writes "Harvesting power from the wind and the sun is nothing new. We've seen flying wind turbines and solar power plants that aim to provide clean renewable energy. UK-based New Wave Energy has a bolder idea in the works. The company plans to build the first high altitude aerial power plant, using networks of unmanned drones that can harvest energy from multiple sources and transmit it wirelessly to receiving stations on the ground."
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Company Wants To Put Power Plants In the Sky

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  • by bob_super (3391281) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:06PM (#45515923)

    Some of my French friend might not mind the idea of sharp 20m x 20m solar panels occasionally plummeting on the Brits.

    Where can you find a good EMP device these days?

  • by davek (18465) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:10PM (#45515993) Homepage Journal

    If I see another story about some schlub who "plans on" making clean, cheap power; or one that "reveals" a breakthrough that "could" revolutionize power generation, I'm going to lose it. We can harness the power of the atom to provide almost limitless clean energy, but no one cares because Japan gets flooded sometimes. *yawn*

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But what if the power plant is run by incompetent Ukrainian communists, didn't think of that did you!

    • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:20PM (#45516121)

      The plant in Japan was an obsolete design, hit by a tsunami rather larger than any planned for, and experiencing by sheer bad luck multiple redundent system failures.

      And it *still* couldn't do worse than leak a tiny bit of radiation. Fatalities: Zero. It's not even leaving a not 'no entry' zone. At worst, no fishing in the area for a while. It's a non-disaster.

      But... nuclear, scary!

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:30PM (#45516257)

        I'm pronuclear but I think it's pretty well demonstarted that TEPCO can be called anything but truthful.

        Whilst I understand your desire to downplay events we do need to accept that nuclear does have one very real and dangerous flaw: People.

        Yes the tech, especially today's designs, are safe.

        But, as long as you have penny pinching arsehats running the show, things are going to go wrong.

        • by Joce640k (829181) on Monday November 25, 2013 @03:45PM (#45517821) Homepage

          Yes the tech, especially today's designs, are safe.

          They're still designed on the same principles as the bomb-making reactors of the 1950s. There's still a danger in a really really bad screw-up and they produce an awful lot of very nasty waste product (this is by design - they were meant for making bombs, remember).

          We've got newer designs that are inherently safe (ie. they fail to a safe state) and don't produce all the bomb-making residues. Trouble is, governments want no part of funding the R&D costs these days and financing them through private investors makes them a hundred times more expensive (it's a long term project so they won't bother investing unless they get a return on their money 20 years from now which is a hundred times their initial investment).

          • by dbIII (701233)
            India is working on it but that lack of military applications has slowed down research there are well. The US nuclear industry ate it's own children by actively opposing R&D and lobbying to shut down the thorium project, so you won't see anything come out of the US other than under the radar skunkworks derived from military research.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 25, 2013 @02:12PM (#45516771)

        "hit by a tsunami rather larger than any planned for"

        That's the problem. Not larger than any expected in that area, because earthquakes and tsunami of that scale are a part of the history of the region (e.g., the 869AD earthquake and tsunami [wikipedia.org]), but larger than they decided to build a tsunami wall for. It didn't have to be that way, because another nuclear plant in the same region (Onagawa) survived just fine thanks to building a wall that was big enough [oregonlive.com]. At Fukushima it was a sloppy decision for the sake of saving money. It wasn't bad luck, it was stupid, cheap design, like also putting the backup generators below normal sea level instead of up high. In a known tsunami-prone area, that was foolish. Fukushima was a disaster waiting to happen thanks to decisions made decades before. Even as the risk because of tsunami became more established in recent decades because of more research on historical tsunami, they still didn't update adequately. This was not "bad luck". It was incompetence.

        Sure, no deaths, but huge areas of well-justified evacuation. Contrary to your claim, there will be wide areas on land that are unsafe for agriculture or residence for decades (particularly because of the effects of cesium isotopes). Even if people return, their lives will be changed for a long time. Thousands of people are currently refugees in their own country. I agree that the magnitude of the event has been somewhat exaggerated, and you could argue that some of the continued effects on people is because of overblown paranoia about radiation, but you're going too far the other way. I wouldn't want to live in the main contaminated areas either.

        I'm pretty supportive of nuclear power generally, and I think the idea of flying solar power generation ranks pretty close to perpetual motion machines for practicality, but you won't get people to accept nuclear power or do it safely by downplaying the effects at Fukushima, and what a $@!#$!-up it was. The people in the midst of the disaster that kept it from being much worse are heroes, but the people who made the longer-term decision to cheap out on protections aught to be publicly flogged. The whole thing could have been a genuine non-event if it was properly managed. Onagawa nuclear power station proves that conclusively.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        The plant in Japan was an obsolete design, hit by a tsunami rather larger than any planned for, and experiencing by sheer bad luck multiple redundent system failures.

        So what you are saying is that you can solve the obsolete design part (is that even a problem? something newer isn't automatically better) but the problems of rare unplanned-for events and bad luck are still there.

        You also forgot the issue of the operators being cheap and screwing up when things got bad.

        Fatalities: Zero. It's not even leaving a not 'no entry' zone.

        People died during the evacuation, and now at least 20 odd children have cancer that was likely caused by leaks from the plant with many more to come in the next few years.

        But hay, who gives a fuck about the

        • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday November 25, 2013 @03:43PM (#45517795)

          But hay, who gives a fuck about the human suffering, it's costing hundreds of billions of dollars to clean the damn thing up and compensate everybody!

          It's still way cheaper than the alternative (i.e., coal) -- in terms of human suffering and dollars.

        • by lgw (121541) on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:00PM (#45518001) Journal

          Life isn't supposed to be perfectly safe. Nuclear power plants are very safe - they're down in the noise floor compared to real risks. But "oooooh nukular scary scary" is all people can hear.

          Bad things happen in life, and eventually everyone dies. A nuclear power plant with a modern design is as safe as there's any point in making things in life. Will people eventually die as a result. Sure. People die building them to. It's just not important that they aren't "perfectly safe" because that's not an interesting goal.

          A very low change of death is a minor factor in our standard of living. Technology that gives a net increase in standard of living is good, even if there are also downsides, because everything in life has downsides.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            There's a difference between accepting that there is always risk, even in a very safe and carefully-monitored setting (e.g., commercial airline flights), and putting trust in a system that has demonstrated severe incompetence (Fukushima nuclear power plant). Fukushima was an old design, yes. But even when the risk from a tsunami became increasingly obvious in recent decades as a result of studying historical tsunami in the region, they did not adequately prepare, contrary to other nuclear power plants in

            • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday November 25, 2013 @05:52PM (#45519315)

              You end with an interesting simile:

              "That would be like running an airline, and when the FAA advisories come out because of previous mechanical issues or human issues that caused crashes, you do nothing."

              Japan's response to Fukushima is like dissolving all the airlines and not having passenger air travel anymore because a plane crashed due to pilot error or shoddy maintenance. When companies screw up like that the solution is to tighten up regulations and/or put the criminals in charge in jail. Not to shut down all the nuclear power plants that didn't screw up.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            You know what, sod this. If you don't want to have an adult debate about this and will just resort to "oooooh nukular scary scary" there really isn't much point, is there?

            I tried to make a rational argument. Of course life isn't perfectly safe, but there are cheaper and safer options. I'm not talking about coal, don't try to pull that one. You didn't address it... Well, I'm feeling generous, so I'll give you another chance. The cost of Fukushima is astronomical. That cost has nothing to do with fear or scar

        • by fnj (64210) on Monday November 25, 2013 @04:14PM (#45518145)

          So what you are saying is that you can solve the obsolete design part (is that even a problem? something newer isn't automatically better)

          Absolutely, something newer isn't automatically better, but a newer design that has much better passive/inherent safety really is better. It's not the obsolescence of the GE torus BWR that makes it shitty. It's the inherently unsafe design with terrible containment that makes it shitty. There is a reason that naval vessel reactors are PWR. Three Mile Island was a PWR and suffered a partial core meltdown and did not harm the environment at all. It did not blow up. No dangerous levels of radiation were released into the surrounding neighborhood. And it is was from about the same era as Fukushima.

          The operators of TMI were as much "cheap screwups" (as you put it very well) as those of Fukushima, but the outcome was very, very different because of the much safer design and much more intelligent and competent dealing with the accident in the hours and days following.

          but the problems of rare unplanned-for events and bad luck are still there.

          Bad luck had nothing at all to do with it, unless you spell bad luck i-n-c-o-m-p-e-t-e-n-c-e. Not planning in the design for levels of natural disasters well known to have occurred in the very recent past was criminal. I suppose you could say that criminal acts will always be with us. All the more reason to stay away from designs that require perfectly executed continuing active measures to prevent them from becoming disasters. A pebble bed reactor [wikipedia.org], for example, is passively safe. It does not require large quantities of water actively circulating to prevent meltdown even after shutdown. It does not rely on control rods to prevent a runaway reaction. The coolant, being an inert gas, physically cannot change phase (like water into steam) and get used up thereby; it cannot become radioactive in the case of helium. The material of the fuel "pebbles" does not melt at any temperature, and does not sublimate (directly gasify) until it reaches 4000 C. That is well over twice the temperature at which steel melts into a puddle.

          A liquid fluoride thorium reactor [wikipedia.org] is another example of inherently safe design with passive cooling.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            A liquid fluoride thorium reactor is another example of inherently safe design with passive cooling.

            Someone always mentions thorium, forgetting that so far no-one has been able to demonstrate it working on a commercial scale and almost all the small scale experiments have ended in partial or total failure. Come on, show me a working commercial scale one.

        • by DamonHD (794830)

          ... and now at least 20 odd children have cancer that was likely caused by leaks from the plant with many more to come in the next few years

          Citation please?

          Rgds

          Damon

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by phantomfive (622387)
        The Fukushima problem is not contained yet, and it appears people were covering up the damage, so it might be wise to wait a while, until all the data is in, before saying it is a non-disaster. Things could still go really badly.
      • I like your point, and would like to add to it, 4 words:

        Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

        I live in the effected area, and things haven't been the same since. But as far as what we're talking about, they have remained exactly the same...
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Wake me when it makes more power than it consumes

      That's an engineering problem. You know, we can put them flyers in orbit. Assuming we can do this, we can go further and put them on an orbit around/closer to the Sun and use some kind of EM radiation to send the power on Earth.
      Or... you know... we begin by boosting the receiver end to take advantage of that kind of EM radiation the Sun already emits and eliminate the energy cost of the drones?

  • by rossdee (243626) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:12PM (#45516011)

    "We've seen flying wind turbines

    We've seen artists impressions of flying wind turbines in PopSci and PopMec , nobody has actually built one that works yet...

      "networks of unmanned drones that can harvest energy from multiple sources"

    Won't they be using most of the energy they harvest just to stay airborne?

    " transmit it wirelessly to receiving stations on the ground."

    What could possibly go wrong?

    • They want financing.

      GREEN power from DRONES will get you financing. Not sure why they didn't insist these will be BEYOND THE CLOUD!
      That'd be the orgasmic trifecta of current VCs...

      • you call these things drones.
        I think they're trying to sell to the wrong audience.

        Sell them to the NRO as spying platforms.
        Sell them to Google as mapping bots.
        Sell them to Verizon as wireless stations.
        Then all that free, solar nrg can be sweet, sweet profit!
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      iirc there were protos of some tethered wind turbines.

      now those sound and look a lot more feasible than "wirelessly transmitting power" from flying drones. if they can do that then they could do a bunch of other energy harvesting projects.. no need to mix it up with drones.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        Yep.

        Trying to keep a flat 400m2 panel stable in the strong winds up there doesn't seem realistic to me. And wireless transmission? Give me a break.

        Something tied to a cable (which can also bring the power down to ground level) seems like a much cheaper, safer bet. I wonder why nobody's actually done it yet.

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          They have. Someone linked a project in this discussion. It's more efficient than ground-based wind turbines.

      • The biggest problem with untethered airborne turbines is the amount of power spent on keeping them in the air at their designated location. The other major problem is the efficiency of beaming power down through either RF or light beams - not particularly efficient.

        The tethered helium or hydrogen filled canvas baloon-turbines does sound more feasible to me as well: make the turbine large enough to lift the whole thing including cables, the gas fill provides the lift so no additional power needs to be wasted

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          The biggest problem with untethered airborne turbines is that they rely on cartoon physics.

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      We've seen artists impressions of flying wind turbines in PopSci and PopMec , nobody has actually built one that works yetâ¦

      Actually, they have [youtube.com]. (Whether it will ever be economically competitive is another thing, but it does "work")

  • by Joce640k (829181) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:12PM (#45516015) Homepage

    Gee, that sounds efficient. Not.

  • by arobatino (46791) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:12PM (#45516021)

    What about internet access? Low latency, unlike satellites.

  • Drone... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gagol (583737) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:12PM (#45516023)
    Now add a camera and you get a pretty good domestic surveillance coverage.
  • A bolder idea? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thanshin (1188877) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:12PM (#45516033)

    "Space-based solar power (SBSP) [wikipedia.org] is the concept of collecting solar power in space (using an "SPS", that is, a "solar power satellite" or a "satellite power system") for use on Earth. It has been in research since the early 1970s."

    (Emphasis mine)

    • I once demonstrated a similar smaller scale solar power collection system to the ants. Their minds were blown and soon after they declared war.
      Who knew building an operational Death Ray was in violation of the Treaty of Alderaan?

    • I know a fellow who has been researching UFO's, Bigfoot, and Astrology since the 1960's - all things just as fanciful as space based solar power.

  • How? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:13PM (#45516053) Journal

    Ok, I get the photovoltaic part, but how can it gain energy from the wind without a tether?

    -jcr

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I have a feeling its something along the lines of spinning one propeller with the wind from another propeller to generate infinite wind power.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Wind turbines on an aircraft brings up images of Donald Duck blowing air at the sail on his boat. That's not a good sign.

      • Re:How? (Score:5, Informative)

        by compro01 (777531) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:56PM (#45516575)

        Wind turbines on an aircraft brings up images of Donald Duck blowing air at the sail on his boat. That's not a good sign.

        Contrary to what a simple interpretation of physics suggests, it actually is possible to propel a sailboat with a fan in that manner. However, it's highly inefficient and you'll get far better results by taking down the sail and pointing the fan in the other direction.

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          As pictured (with the boat running), it's only possible if the air particles bounce off the sail. It's probably possible to get aerodynamic drive from a fan... I'd have to draw out the vector diagram. Either way, it's extremely inefficient. Extremely inefficient is not how you want your power generation apparatus described.

        • by lgw (121541)

          OTOH, a vehicle that uses a fan to power it's wheels, and powers the fan from the wind of the vehicles passage works very well indeed into a strong wind, by the same principle that lets racing sailboats sail upwind at faster than the windspeed.

      • by bobbied (2522392)

        But an apt analogy for why this idea is doomed.. Pesky thermodynamics gets in the way again. We need to Repeal those laws..

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      windmill on it? that is if it's using hot current or something to rise up and then generate energy from that.

      it does sound rather fanciful though.

      I mean, if we had wireless energy like that then electric cars would be a fixed problem.

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      Flying against the wind. Obviously.

      Have I told you about my "Self illuminating light powered underground plant"?

  • It's called... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by David Betz (2845597) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:16PM (#45516085)
    ...The Sun.
  • Meh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tibit (1762298) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:21PM (#45516133)

    There's really no point in flying solar cells, they don't work any better than down on Earth, and they shade what's under just the same. It's quite pointless, if you ask me. If you're going to fly something, use the flying aspect of it to generate power. What a let-down.

    IMHO the way of using flying-anything for power has been demonstrated by Makani Power [makanipower.com]. I somehow trust Makani's engineering a tad better. They've been a bit more open about their engineering process, and they have some pretty damn good talent. Oh, and their areal power density (per are of flying "stuff") is at least order of magnitude better than an ideal 100% efficient solar cell would be. So, meh. Big meh.

    • Re:Meh (Score:5, Informative)

      by compro01 (777531) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:42PM (#45516395)

      There's really no point in flying solar cells, they don't work any better than down on Earth

      Actually, they do. Solar irradiance increases with altitude, at a rate of about 8% per 1000m [sciencedirect.com].

      • by tibit (1762298)

        Working better, to me, is an order of magnitude better, to at least some decent integer factor better. I mean something has to offset the huge inconvenience of flying the darn thing, it better be good. So, still meh.

        • by weilawei (897823)
          So basically, let's redefine the meaning of "working better" to keep your (factually incorrect) argument going. Just admit you're wrong already. Better is conventionally taken to mean "with greater fitness than the other thing", not "with an order of magnitude greater fitness than the other thing" which might be referred to as being "an order of magnitude better" in common parlance. Most advances in technology are *not* an order of magnitude better, or even an integer factor (minimum of 2x) better. Most adv
    • There's really no point in flying solar cells, they don't work any better than down on Earth

      Not true. Aside from the fact that solar intensity does increase with altitude, the really big benefit is to get above all cloud cover.

      Of course, you then have to beam the energy back down to earth, which means getting it through those clouds again. But you're free to chose what wavelength to use for doing that, so you can choose one that passes through clouds much more easily.

  • Skeptic (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If you want to harvest more energy than what was involved in the construction and maintenance of the energy-harvesting-drone, then you need to send a significant proportion of that energy toward the ground. And it then hit the same problem we have had with such idea for a long time : there isn't significantly more solar energy in altitude than on the ground, you would have to go in orbit. But even if you collect it using wind, giving it back to the ground station can then be hazardeous due to the quantity i
  • world finally catching up to Nikolai Tesla.
  • Okay, flying drones are possible. Flying drones with power generation methods such as solar cells on board are possible. Flying drones that can fly for weeks or months through the high atmosphere are perhaps possible with some technology development. Flying drones that can fly for months through the high atmosphere and generate a significant quantity of excess power might be possible some day with significant technology development in solar cell or wind turbine efficiency. But...but...but...transmitting
  • by edibobb (113989)
    Once again, someone forgot to run the numbers. It's not practical, and certainly not news. How does this trash make into /. ?
  • by Marrow (195242) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:57PM (#45516593)

    Instead of a dam, and all the expense. Why not have an underwater windmill? In fact, you could mount it on a platform that could be raised and lowered for servicing the unit. The cables that keep it from washing away also protect/carry the conductors for the electricity.
    If the unit is deep enough, barge traffic could go right over the top.

    • by jmauro (32523)

      What you propose is possible for things like ocean currents, but a river isn't deep enough or have enough of a continual flow to be useful for power generation unless you use a dam to build a reservoir. Then the water can be released at a steady rate, and you can hide the power generation portions in places where there is no boat traffic, like inside the dam.

  • bad idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by viperidaenz (2515578) on Monday November 25, 2013 @02:28PM (#45516939)

    we all know how dangerous the microwave power stations were in Sim City.

  • by jamesl (106902)

    Does anyone vet these before posting? The "proof of concept" is a toy helicopter with a toy photovoltaic cell sending power down a wire to light five toy houses. It's toys all the way down.

    It's a high school science project -- a bad one at that. It's an April Fools' joke. It's $39.95 at Toys r Us. It's $9.95 on Woot! It's a cover from the December 1964 Popular Science. It's a scene from a 1955 science fiction movie. From Afghanistan. It's News for nerds, Stuff that matters.

  • If you're going to beam power down... the environmental impact statement for solar power satellites was done in the early eighties.

    And no, idiots, it is not a MEGAWATT BEAM TO WIPE OUT CITIES - IIRC, they were talking about something about 10? 100? watts/m^2, and a large array of receivers in desert areas.

                    mark

    • by fnj (64210)

      Perhaps you could find a citation for your power level. It seems pointless to me. The desert already receives solar radiation of close to 1000 W/m^2 absolutely free directly from the sun, and nobody has figured out yet how to make a profit harnessing that at large scale.

      Remember, the US has an installed electrical generating capacity in excess of one trillion watts (1 TW).

      I think you would need a much much higher energy density in your beam, and I think it could be very dangerous if it got out of control. F

  • So, I presume that these drones are powered by the power they collect and that they stay aloft at night...

    There is no way this works in a financially viable way. Getting any kind of aircraft in the air and keeping it there is a power intensive operation. We only recently demonstrated a solar powered aircraft capable of staying aloft overnight. Even so, it wasn't a power generation platform because it returned with less of a charge in the battery than it left with. So I think they are being a bit optimis

    • by Wootery (1087023)

      Getting any kind of aircraft in the air and keeping it there is a power intensive operation

      Strictly speaking, this is only true of heavier-than-air aircraft.

      • by bobbied (2522392)

        Hadn't thought of that option, but now we are just sending up blimps with solar panels on them? Would we not be at the mercy of the prevailing winds aloft? It will take a lot of energy to stay on station, or at least in view of the power receiver site...

        Nope, still not viable.

  • Science project? Really this sounds like something dreamed up by a kid, one who hasn't heard of 200mph winds that that elevation.

  • Raptors with jetpacks, no less:

    "At 50,000 ft (15,000 m) there is very little air traffic and biodiversity, unless you go over the Himalayas," company director Michael Burdett tells Gizmag. "Implementing a system in these conditions will not obstruct any existing systems."

    Uh, yeah. I'm thinking about the only organisms you're going to bump into at 50k feet would be Need For Speed skydivers like that Baumgartner dude.

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