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Power Science

Jet Stream Kites Could Power New York City 263

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the kites-and-keys dept.
Damien1972 writes to tell us that researchers from the Carnegie Institution and California State University claim that a fleet of kites could harvest enough energy to run New York and other major cities, especially if they are affected by polar jet streams. "Using 28 years of data from the National Center for Environmental Prediction and the Department of Energy, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology and Cristina Archer of California State University, Chico compiled the first global survey of wind energy available at high altitudes in the atmosphere. They found that the regions best suited for harvesting this energy align with population centers in the eastern U.S. and East Asia, although they note that 'fluctuating wind strength still presents a challenge for exploiting this energy source on a large scale.'"
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Jet Stream Kites Could Power New York City

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  • by awarrenfells (1289658) on Monday June 15, 2009 @06:51PM (#28341839) Homepage
    Maybe this will finally rid Florida of the lightning capital of the world title.

    Ben Franklin, eat your heart out. :-P
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday June 15, 2009 @06:52PM (#28341845)

    Great defense against incoming jetliners as the kites get sucked into engines, either from terrorists or major campaign donors out for a spin in Air Force One.

    It'll be like the ending of Mary Poppins, only it never ends! Let's go fly a kite, up to the highest height...

    • by Jeremi (14640) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:19PM (#28342121) Homepage

      Great defense against incoming jetliners as the kites get sucked into engines, either from terrorists or major campaign donors out for a spin in Air Force One.

      America circa 1960: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
      America circa 2009: "OMG terrorists!"

      Honestly, will we ever get our national cojones back?

      (not that I think kite-power is necessarily a realistic idea, I'm just tired of the knee-jerk genuflection towards our new Al Quaeda overlords)

      • by tjstork (137384)

        Honestly, will we ever get our national cojones back?

        I would think that, having blown off the UN to invade half of the middle east, some might say we have too many cojones...

        • by genner (694963) on Monday June 15, 2009 @08:16PM (#28342641)

          Honestly, will we ever get our national cojones back?

          I would think that, having blown off the UN to invade half of the middle east, some might say we have too many cojones...

          Yeah that took "balls". What are they going to do...pass a non-binding resolution to some day send us a strongly worded letter.

      • by SimonInOz (579741)

        Does anyone know what "the other things" were?

        I've always wondered.

      • by jmorris42 (1458) * <`jmorris' `at' `beau.org'> on Monday June 15, 2009 @08:34PM (#28342765)

        > America circa 2009: "OMG terrorists!"

        Eh? Dunno about you but the Air Force One gag included made it pretty clear to me the original poster was making a joke out of it, which is the correct response.

        > Honestly, will we ever get our national cojones back?

        Forget the cojones, how about some sanity and common sense?

        Now getting back to the topic......

        Look folks, this isn't rocket science. Modern civilization isn't possible without large quantities of energy in some form. The current situation is clearly unsustainable, depending on oil from places that hate our guts and use our dollars to destroy our civilization is insane. Ok, if we can agree on that we can move to the question of what should replace foreign oil. And it is a pretty short list:

        1. More domestic production. Nice short term solution, I support it even; but Drill, Baby Drill! ain't nothing but a stopgap measure at best.

        2. Something Green. Ok, this kite thing is typical of the category. Pie in the sky, impractical, decades away and will cost multiples what we pay for energy now. Assuming it can even be made to work at all. Again, if one of these notions eventually pans out, great. For the record I'm all for Unicorns and kittens too. But do we really need to put all our hopes on one of these miracles arriving in time to save us?

        Especially in light of the hate enviros start heaping on any alternative source that begins to become practical? Hydro? NO! Already got nutter enviros against geothermal. How in the wide wide world of sports can an enviro be against geothermal! There are other reasons it hasn't become commonplace, but environmental concerns? Got enviros lining up against large scale solar. Wind turbines, besides Sen. Kennedy not wanting to see em off HIS beachfront, are noisy, ugly and kill birds. Oh no, wind isn't green enough. And we are laughing now about kites but if actual production started lighting up the grid you can bet enviros would have objections and they wouldn't be joking. And laughing at THEM gets you branded a 'hater' who wants to destroy the precious earth.

        I think we have enough evidence to draw a conclusion: By the time a green tech gets into actual production it isn't green anymore. The real world at work? Or perhaps we need to understand the underlying truth. Greens don't want us to find innovative new sources of energy to continue our lifestyle, they want to make energy scarce so as to reshape our society along lines THEY find more pleasing. We aren't to get a vote in this, we aren't even supposed to know we have other options because we can't be trusted to make the 'correct' choice.

        And meanwhile, while we sit around and beat off over the latest green tech fresh from some research project we actually DO NOTHING other than continue to send cash to help destabilize the middle east a little more.

        3. We build the crap out of modern safe designs for fission plants and let that hold us until fusion finally gets into production.

        • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Monday June 15, 2009 @08:57PM (#28342929) Journal

          Forget the cojones, how about some sanity and common sense?

          Now getting back to the topic......

          Look folks, this isn't rocket science...

          Damn, where are my mod points when I need them? I'll have to settle for putting you on the friends list.

          In the interests of brevity you probably omitted the possibility that the greenie-green haters you reference may actually prefer to keep themselves in the public eye as some form of environmental elite. This wouldn't last if green solutions become mainstream, they'd be just like anybody else.

          It's extremely annoying to a revolutionary when the establishment gives into their demands without a fight.

          • Calling eco-extremists "enviro" or "green" is about as useful and misleading as calling the KKK "conservative".
        • by radtea (464814) on Monday June 15, 2009 @09:33PM (#28343185)

          Greens don't want us to find innovative new sources of energy to continue our lifestyle, they want to make energy scarce so as to reshape our society along lines THEY find more pleasing.

          It's important to be aware the puritans are NOT green, although they have managed to hijack the green movement for the past couple of decades. The only thing that has kept them going is the impracticality of most genuine green tech. They are under siege within the movement now, and over the course of the next couple of decades will become a footnote to history, precisely because most people are in favour of sustainable solutions to the power generation problem and are, of course, not puritans.

          They are not puritans for a very simple reason: puritanism is not sustainable. The only way the puritans can impose themselves on the world is if no green technology actually works. Unfortunately everything from solar to wind is coming along nicely, and even nuclear and clean coal are talked about seriously.

          So don't make the mistake of confusing the puritans with the greens. The puritans are on the way out. The greens are finally coming back from the debacle of the early '70's, when formerly scientific organizations like Greenpeace became marketing shills for the puritans.

          • I've been a "greenie" since the 70's, the correct term for the people who reject technology is "luddite". I agree with your summary of greenpeace as do many of it's founders who left in disgust at the scientific ignorance of luddite policies such as campagining to stop chlorination of drinking water.
        • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday June 15, 2009 @10:38PM (#28343635) Homepage

          I think we have enough evidence to draw a conclusion: By the time a green tech gets into actual production it isn't green anymore. The real world at work?

          Yeah, to a large extent, I think it is the real world at work. Nothing is free, and I don't mean that in terms of money. I mean anything that we use to "create" energy isn't really creating energy. Energy doesn't get created, it just gets collected, harnessed, and transfered. So pretty much anything we do to "create" energy will actually mean taking energy out of the environment somehow. That means it's going to have some kind of environmental impact.

          So part of the problem is that these "greens" that you talk about, the people who want zero environmental impact, are people who want a free lunch and have no idea how the world works. They're utopianists. They're the same people who have some imagined model of government/economics that they think will solve all the world's problems. Hint: it's basically a big commune where we all share and everyone is always nice to each other.

          They're also the people who 20 years ago thought the most important think for school children was "self esteem". They're the same people who think that if you just "be yourself", then people will like you, and that being honest and saying what you feel will solve all of your personal problems. They're the same sort of people who 40 years ago thought that love and freedom for tradition and social norms would fix the world.

          They're children who think that all of our problems have simple and perfect solutions, and given a strategy to address certain problem, once they've discovered a down-side, they decide that it's complete unacceptable.

        • by rssrss (686344)

          Dude: Word

          +1

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by slim (1652)

          I think we have enough evidence to draw a conclusion: By the time a green tech gets into actual production it isn't green anymore. The real world at work? Or perhaps we need to understand the underlying truth. Greens don't want us to find innovative new sources of energy to continue our lifestyle, they want to make energy scarce so as to reshape our society along lines THEY find more pleasing. We aren't to get a vote in this, we aren't even supposed to know we have other options because we can't be trusted to make the 'correct' choice.

          Here's my explanation for that: that block of people you've just damned for being inconsistent hypocrites, are not a single uniform group.

          That is, the people in favour of wind turbines, are still in favour of wind turbines. They're "environmentalists" in the sense that they want sustainable power sources.

          The people who oppose wind turbines likely couldn't care less about sustainable power. They care about the pretty view on their favourite countryside hike. They're "environmentalists" in the sense that that

      • by Usquebaugh (230216) on Monday June 15, 2009 @09:37PM (#28343227)

        1920 OMG Commies
        1930 OMG Fascists
        1940 OMG Fascists
        1950 OMG Commies
        1960 OMG Commies
        1970 OMG Commies
        1980 OMG Japan
        1990 OMG Iraq
        2000 OMG Muslims

        Basically, the US has always had a national fear to attack. Independent thought is rare and independent action even rarer in the US.

        Now shut up and go watch the TV.

    • (looks up patent on "Leyden Jar")
  • New York already has the most congested airways in the country, and possibly in the world. If these kites are at 30,000 feet, and most commercial airplanes fly around 35,000 feet, how are we not going to have a bunch of severed kites everywhere?

    Or is this just "Let's Dream [slashdot.org] a Dream" Day [slashdot.org] on Slashdot?

    • by SomeJoel (1061138)
      Well, 35,000 feet is higher than 30,000 feet. So, in your example, the planes would fly over the kites.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sbeckstead (555647)
      Everywhere else we call it navigation. I don't know what you would call it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by incognito84 (903401)
      No, it's fine. We just need to lubricate them sufficiently.
    • by jcr (53032)

      how are we not going to have a bunch of severed kites everywhere?

      This is just a wild guess, but I'm thinking it could be done the same way aircraft avoid each other. Put nav lights and radar transponders on the kites.

      -jcr

      • I see what you mean. But they'd still have to drop at least three lines to the ground -- and likely even more -- so the kite doesn't sway unpredictably.

        This, plus the radius around which there could potentially be falling debris, or severance, leads me to wonder whether this wishful thinking, or something that could seriously be commercialized.

        As a counterpoint, wouldn't it be easier to install turbines in the ocean and harvest tidal forces?

        • by jcr (53032)

          But they'd still have to drop at least three lines to the ground -- and likely even more -- so the kite doesn't sway unpredictably.

          No, you just need control surfaces on the kite to steer it where you want it.

          -jcr

    • New York already has the most congested airways in the country, and possibly in the world. If these kites are at 30,000 feet, and most commercial airplanes fly around 35,000 feet, how are we not going to have a bunch of severed kites everywhere?

      Um, I dunno ... maybe fly them somewhere else and run a cable to the grid?

  • All together now ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday June 15, 2009 @06:58PM (#28341919) Homepage

    With 2K for turbines and wires,
    we can build a generating flyer.
    With a line to the ground,
    it's a turbine in flight!
    With a bolt holding tight
    to the string of the kite!

    Let's go fly a kite
    Up to the highest height
    Let's go fly a kite
    And send it soaring
    Up through the atmosphere
    Up where the air is clear
    Oh, let's go fly a kite!

  • Hrmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome (1008495) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:00PM (#28341945)

    Got me thinkin'.

    I suppose the "fluctuating flow" problem could be circumvented by using helium bags to get the kites aloft initially, combined with a spooled tether.

    When the jet-stream is coming close, the bags are filled and the kite spooled to the proper altitude. Once the jet-stream is sufficient to keep the kite aloft, the bags are deflated and stowed. When the jet-stream is predicted to be moving out of the area, the bags are re-inflated until there is no more reason to keep it aloft, at which time it spooled back in.

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      And where do we get the helium? Fusion!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CodeBuster (516420)
      Helium is a rare gas here on earth that we would be wise to conserve rather than waste [blogspot.com]; it is scarce and it is becoming scarcer because we are squandering it. The only reason why many Americans don't understand the relative scarcity of helium (we are rapidly depleting our current supplies and once it all escapes into space it won't be easy to get more) is because the United States happens to have the worlds largest known reserves of helium produced from radioactive decay in oil wells in parts of the State o
      • Who said anything about waste?

        Ok, I admit SOME helium will escape bags right through the material, but everything else can be pumped/compressed right back into on-board tanks as the bags are deflated and mechanically stowed.

        As far as escaping gas from bullet-holes and such (something blimps are often subject to) these things would be far too high for collisions or bullets (except for a short period during descent/ascent).

        On-board Hydrogen generator powered by the kite itself, maybe?

        • You do realize that Helium is second only to hydrogen in its ability to diffuse through solids? Helium loss can be reduced or minimized, but it can never be completely prevented no matter what material is used. Helium atoms will escape right through the walls of solid metal tanks (albeit not so solid to helium or hydrogen atoms) because the space between the metallic atoms is large enough for the relatively tiny helium atoms to pass through. Helium, hydrogen, and other light gases defy all attempts to conta
    • by greenguy (162630)

      I was thinking just the opposite. When I hear about fluctuating flow, I keep thinking there must be a way to turn this to our advantage. Here's my idea...

      You start with a good-sized counterweight. I don't know exactly how big -- that would depend on all sorts of variables. Anyway, you set it up with gears and pulleys and whatnot such that the wind lifts it up when it blows, and drops it down when it stops. A slight variation on this would be to ratchet the counterweight up to a considerable height, which wo

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:03PM (#28341965)
    Even over the best areas, the wind can be expected to fail about five percent of the time.

    The heck with backup power sources -- who covers the liability when 6 miles of power-transmitting cable come crashing to the ground? And how much wind does it take to support the weight of 6 mile long high voltage wire?
    • by smaddox (928261)

      The power is generated on the ground. The kite simply moves cables in a circular or figure-8 pattern.

      Why does everyone assume they have found the show stopping problem that the people who have been working on this for years have overlooked? These people aren't amateur inventors asking for start-up capital. This system is well researched and proven to work (although I'm not sure there are any test sites working at jet stream altitudes, yet). The problem with airplanes is trivial - no-fly zones aren't

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by winomonkey (983062)

        The power is generated on the ground. The kite simply moves cables in a circular or figure-8 pattern.

        FTFA: "Several technologies have been proposed to harvest these high altitude winds, including tethered, kite-like turbines that would be floated to the altitude of the jet streams at an altitude of 20,000-50,000 feet and transmit up to 40 megawatts of electricity to the ground via the tether."

        It sounds a little like they are talking about creating "kite-like turbines that would be floated to the altitude of the jet streams" ... and then they would "transmit up to 40 megawatts of electricity to the grou

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by timmarhy (659436)
          i've seen the nat geo show on this, they spent decades trying to get these things to work. one guy built a blowup version, sent 10's of thousands on it only to have it fail. it's great is you just ignore small details like oh say, what happens when one breaks loose. it is after all in the jet stream under pretty extreme conditions.
  • Power line (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:05PM (#28341993) Journal

    A kite which can support a 30,000 foot electric line? I'm thinking there are some serious engineering challenges there. Probably involving unobtanium and other exotic materials.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:14PM (#28342089) Homepage
    What happens when you pull that much energy out of the jetstream? Does it change global air circulation? Do you get climate changes throughout the world?
    • by dissy (172727) on Monday June 15, 2009 @10:38PM (#28343637)

      What happens when you pull that much energy out of the jetstream?

      "That much energy" is not really all that much energy actually. At best we could only hope to extract a billionth of a percent or less, with current technology and for at least a little while to come still.

      It's similar to the scale of the effect of humanity putting many large heavy city sized boats on our oceans. This does not displace enough water for there to be any measurable effect on the water line at shore. The fractions are just too small to need to worry about for now.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      What happens when you pull that much energy out of the jetstream? Does it change global air circulation? Do you get climate changes throughout the world?

      At worst, you'll slightly change the weather pattern downwind.
      Don't forget, cities are already artificial wind breaks that alter weather patterns.
      With that in mind, there is so much energy in wind that we couldn't begin to take out enough to make an appreciable dent in the flows.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dbIII (701233)

      What happens when you pull that much energy out of the jetstream?

      Somewhere in the amazon jungle a butterfly has to flap it's wings a lot harder.


      To be a more serious the amounts of energy involved in moving this air about are similar to that released by nearly every nuclear weapon on the planet going off at once. That's a LOT of kites to start dragging in that much energy, we really are talking about the effect of slowing down a hurricane by sneezing against the wind.

  • by mcrbids (148650) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:20PM (#28342137) Journal

    I see comment after comment like "What about teh airplanzes!?!" but such comments come from a severe lack of understanding of controlled airspace.

    See, while it's true that the Eastern seaboard is one of the busiest airspaces in the world, it's also one of the most tightly controlled. Airspace is commonly restricted to 18,000 feet, above which *all* airspace is controlled. (It's called "class A(lpha) airspace at/above 18,000 ft) The only effect this would have on air traffic is that ATC would redirect commercial flights around the kites, which isn't particularly hard to do.

    As a pilot myself, I've many times been diverted around hazards such as other planes, mountains, and even UAVs. (Un-manned Aeronautical vehicles, being tested by the military)

    And obviously, these wouldn't be assembled on the instrument approach path for O'Hare airport. This makes the whole "Teh planezes are fallingz" as exciting a story as "Teh Internetz iz failingz" due to lack of router memory.

    In short, it's just not a significant issue.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by scerruti (1233214)

      Sure it may not be a problem for your airplane, but what about for the tens of thousands of flying cars that will be filling the sky over the major cities?

      • by mcrbids (148650) on Monday June 15, 2009 @10:28PM (#28343559) Journal

        Sure it may not be a problem for your airplane, but what about for the tens of thousands of flying cars that will be filling the sky over the major cities?

        Flying cars will be regulated by the FAA. You have to be an FAA-licensed pilot to fly one. That's why the guys actually making these a reality [terafugia.com] don't call it a "flying car" but rather a "roadable airplane".

        And when flying over a big city, you are almost 100% in heavily controlled airspace. For example, take a look at the online aviation map [skyvector.com] and punch in KBOS at the right. You'll see a pilot's map of the Boston area.

        Now, see all those circles made by thick, blue lines? Those are the lines of demarcation for class B(ravo) airspace - under RADAR control, you must have permission to enter, and your plane MUST be equipped with the appropriate equipment - or they come after you with guns, if necessary. As you can see, almost all of Boston is underneath this heavily controlled airspace - most cities are.

        So don't think that just any old Tom, Dick, and Harry can get in a plane and start buzzing around without hard time afterwards.

        In case you are curious, controlled airspace looks like an upside-down layer-cake, starting from the airport. For (usually) 5 miles away from the airport, the control is from the top of the "cake" down to the surface. You'll see something like 70/SFC within the inner circle, meaning that the ceiling is 7,000 feet, the floor is the ground. Then, further out, you'll see so mething like 70/15, meaning ceiling 7,000, floor 1500 feet.

        Bigger airports go higher (Ex: KSFO ceiling is 10,000 ft) and further out. And the entire area is under the control of "approach control", called class E(cho) airspace, which is still RADAR controlled, but you don't need permission to enter. It's more advisory.

        And basically every pilot I've flown with going virtually anywhere takes advantage of these advisories, called "flight following".

  • Launch a solar panel and beam the energy down to earth.

  • by aaandre (526056) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:24PM (#28342179)

    I am asking because if you had, you would be laughing like I am right now. Powerful winds tear through everything that has even the tiniest bit of slack. At ground level. Tarps rip to pieces, grommets are completely useless. Shelters fly away into the playa, women's clothes break free and take on their own. Oh, well, I am getting distracted.

    TFA's description is much more vague than ones I've seen in science fiction.

    Several technologies have been proposed to harvest these high altitude winds, including tethered, kite-like turbines that would be floated to the altitude of the jet streams at an altitude of 20,000-50,000 feet and transmit up to 40 megawatts of electricity to the ground via the tether.

    Well, I am proposing building flying cities maintained by giant robots. We can use the high altitude, jets streams and clear skies to harvest clear solar and wind energy.

    Here's my proof of concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_in_the_Sky [wikipedia.org]

  • I heard the kites were shaped like pies.

    • by genner (694963)

      I heard the kites were shaped like pies.

      I heard they were shapped like cakes.

  • Pipe dreams (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GottliebPins (1113707) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:47PM (#28342385)
    Why don't we just get a really long extension cord and plug it into the sun?
  • I don't know for certain, but I think it involves a portly Philadelphian and a key...

  • With the news that the winds are dying down?

    http://www.livescience.com/environment/etc/090610-winds-are-dying-down-study-suggests.html [livescience.com]

    Oh well....I guess they could always fly them over Washington, DC.

  • The more we put energy in the atmosphere, either directly or by greenhouse gases, the worse the weather will be: more violent storms, more planes downed by catastrophically worse weather and so on.

    If we take some energy out of the atmosphere and prevent more greenhouse gases to be released as a side effect, I am all in.

  • Oh how great this will be for the tiny fraction of New Yorkers in Manhattan even who pay for everything and don't look at each turn for a chance to scam. This electricity will only be useful really in New York, when it can be easily and conveniently stolen by the masses in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

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