Windlift: Are Planes the Future of Alternative Energy?

With the growing threat of climate change taking full force, the shift to renewable energy is inevitable. The new trend in the marketplace for eco-products has taken off and is garnering new innovations, new jobs, and new hope.

Windlift: Are Planes the Future of Alternative Energy?

By now, it’s fair to assume that the majority of people know what wind turbines look like. However, most of these individuals might not have ever seen their counterparts; well, that’s where Windlift comes in. Windlift is a Durham, North Carolina, based organization looking to make its own dent in the fight towards climate change. The company was founded in 2006 with plans to be a leader in the field of alternative energy. After gaining $2.3M in funding, the company has expanded to 4 employees and is looking to market its product to educate consumers and reach a wider audience.

Windlift is unique in that its product is unlike the traditional wind-powered energy source. Founder and CEO Rob Creighton says, “Windlift is developing the next generation of wind energy systems, airborne wind energy (AEW). Windlift will generate the lowest cost electricity of this century”.

Wind Turbines

Harvesting the wind’s energy the more common way is done via giant wind turbines. Standing at just under 300 feet tall and including as many as 8000 different components, wind turbines are no small feat. Some of the largest proponents of wind turbines argue that, due to their height, they have a great potential to impact flying birds in the surrounding area, that they emit a large amount of noise pollution, and that they cast large shadows as a result of the turbines turning in and out of the sun’s path all day long.

Though these are certainly something to consider, when taken into account the negative outcome that traditional power has on both wildlife and the environment, the aforementioned argument is negligible. So, though it is unfortunate the collateral damage that occurs via wind turbines, it is considered to be the lesser of two evils.

Wind energy is typically considered to be a very efficient and beneficial source of alternative energy. Within the past decade, the growth of wind turbines has shifted significantly, with 14 states being powered by at least 10% wind energy and a select few being powered with 30% wind energy. The future of wind-powered energy is growing.

Airborne Wind Energy

Humans have been harvesting wind power for thousands of years. Traditionally, it was done via windmills that could help power water or grain pumps. Since then, the innovation surrounding wind energy has developed into new and exciting realms, such as airborne wind energy. But what is airborne wind energy, and how is it unique?

Airborne wind energy is unlike the well-known wind turbines in that this innovation harvests the wind’s energy via tethering and an Airborne Power Generator (APG). This is done thanks to an aircraft that is propelled through the wind at high speeds in a figure-8 motion. The plane has onboard turbines and generators that collect the energy that will then flow down the conductive tether to a station located on the ground. It is within this grounded station where that energy will be stored and later distributed. Due to its efficiency and small size in nature, Windlift says that their harvester only uses a whopping 5% of the number of materials that a traditional wind turbine uses. That number is rather staggering and can greatly and positively influence Windlift's future.

Right now, Windlift is primarily marketing its product towards the military, disaster recovery programs, and remote villages. Their target audience can greatly benefit from airborne wind energy due to its low cost, ease of use, and lack of infrastructure needed for installation. So far, Windlift is the only AWE company that has made progress with the U.S. military.

The company claims that the Department of Defense is their main target audience considering that they are the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world. Getting the U.S. military on-board with this technological advancement is promising and can have a drastic influence on the future of alternative energy in the government sector.

The Outcome?

The worldwide push for climate change mitigation has prompted companies such as Windlift to take steps into unchartered territories for the sake of the environment. But will it pay off? Only time will tell. The progress that Windlift has made thus far is promising, and the product is certainly unlike any of the other mainstream alternative energy options. This is beneficial for the company because it gives them a competitive advantage and is beneficial to the environment due to the lower impact it can have in comparison to traditional energy sources.

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