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Wind-power blimp takes to the air (video)

Altaeros Energies shows how an airborne wind turbine, held in a tethered blimp, can generate power at high altitudes and automatically reattach to its launcher.

A video from Altaeros Energies shows a novel vision for powering remote locations.

The wind energy startup released a video this week of its prototype airborne wind turbine during its first test run in Maine earlier this year. The donut-shaped blimp has a spinning fan at its center, and it's tethered to a base station by cables that carry electricity from the blimp to the local grid.

The turbine is designed for remote villages or industrial sites where there isn't grid power and for places such as military outposts that need to rely on diesel generators.

With the machine high in the air, the small wind turbine inside the helium-filled blimp generates twice the power as pole-mounted turbines, the company said. That's because winds are stronger and steadier at higher altitudes. This turbine was tested at 350 feet up.

Having done its prototype, the company is currently designing a commercial system, which would be larger and have a more powerful turbine, according to Adam Rein at Altaeros Energies. The cost of power from the airborne wind turbine is more expensive than power from the grid, but one third the cost of power from diesel generators, he said. The company is also working on a larger, utility-scale turbine for offshore wind.

The video also shows how the blimp can be automatically deployed and brought down from its launcher, which is a modified version of launchers used for industrial blimps.

Although there aren't any commercial systems yet, Altaeros Energy joins a few other companies which are making inflatable turbines or other devices designed to capture the stronger wind at higher altitudes.