Title says it all,

Why are AWE-companies like Makani spending years and millions of dollars developing drones, rather than simply using a balloon-based design?

Wouldn't it be easier and faster to get a system like that into utility-scale, rather than spending so much time on trying to make the perfect drone?

Also, any sources on this would be appreciated.

  • $\begingroup$ Balloon based AWE were once an active R&D topic, kites can swipe a larger area. I don't understand the sentence with the drones, what are you refering to? $\endgroup$ – mart Jul 27 '20 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ @mart I was reffering to Makani's "kites," which are more like drone-planes. $\endgroup$ – GeorgeWTrump Jul 27 '20 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have specific balloon based designs in mind? $\endgroup$ – mart Jul 27 '20 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ @mart No, I was simply thinking in more general terms, since I don't have any deep-going knowledge. Logically, it must be cheaper to send balloons with some sort of gas-control system, than to fine-engineer giant kites. And seeing how the problem right now is not necessarily getting the most efficient AWE system, but rather just any AWE system that can reach high altitudes and be applied to utility scale, I was just wondering why no one has tried with balloons? $\endgroup$ – GeorgeWTrump Jul 27 '20 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ While writing my answer it occured to me that you didnt even bother to look for AWE on wikipedia (wouldn answwer your question but reference attempts at balloon based AWE). $\endgroup$ – mart Jul 27 '20 at 15:18

To generate power from wind, it is neccessary to sweep large areas. Balloon based systems have been proposed, such as this one:

enter image description here

This is a cylindircal balloon, floating in the air horizontally. It rotates with the wind to gerneate power. The proposed prototype would have been about 30m length 17m diameter for 100 kW electrical power (source). Gross weight would have been about 5.9 t, with about 5.700 m³ Helium to lift the balloon. The company website is down.

A more recent example is this donut-shaped balloon with a fan inside. Currently I find no info on AWE on the companies website.

I'm not a wind power expert but my guess is that a balloon based AWE is harder to scale up to a size where it really sweeps a large area for huge power generation. From this page we can guess that rotor (3 blades) plus gearbox and generator for a 600 kW turbine will weigh about 27 tons, which is probably far more then the plane makani is building (tbf lighter is porbably possible).

AWE needs some flight controls either way (can't have a 5 or 30 tons of power plant crash down in a storm, need to account for gas leaks etc.)

Ultimately I think it's the potential for more power gerneation that trumps concers re. complexity etc.


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