Not only might drones one day be delivering our packages, they also might be delivering our energy. UK-based New Wave Energy wants to deploy a network of drones at a high altitude to harvest solar and wind energy in order to help end dependency on the traditional power grid.
Company founder Michael Burdett, also New Wave Energy’s director, had the idea and vision for these drone power-plant networks about 10 years ago, but the company itself was not founded until March 2012. Since then it has developed the foundational technology to make Burdett’s vision a reality. It is currently seeking funding to take things to the next level. As outlined on the company’s website, New Wave Energy’s vision is to leverage airspace above 50,000 feet for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to harvest wind and solar energy. This altitude was chosen because there “wind patterns are more reliable, solar production is greater, and there is little or no interference from weather patterns,” according to the website. These power-collecting drones can then connect wirelessly to each other, creating a high-altitude power plant for distributing and creating energy.
To take the energy harvested and reuse it on the ground, New Wave plans to install antenna arrays either on land or on offshore installations to receive the electromagnetic waves transmitted from the drones and convert them into energy. “As a high-altitude power plant we aim to construct a large wireless network for full-scale energy generation, creating wireless links and distribution between many smaller power plants,” according to the New Wave Energy website. “This not only adds a large amount of redundancy within the project but also creates power plants, which will be clean and invisible to the naked eye.”
The drones themselves will measure about 65 feet square and have four rotors, as well as multiple wind turbines and a flat base for generating solar power. Not only will the UAVs harvest energy -- about 50 kilowatts -- to be transmitted and reused on the ground, but also power themselves with the energy they create. The company lays out a detailed case on its website for the benefits a power plant in the air would provide, including using land where solar panels would be on the ground for other purposes, and providing an energy supply to remote places -- including disaster sites where the power grid is damaged or fails due to a catastrophic event. “As a remote energy source we can create a rapid supply of energy to remote locations, areas affected by earthquakes, floods, or other natural disasters,” according to the New Wave Energy website. “It is with this kind of application we can not only produce renewable energy on-demand but use it to help saves lives around the world.”
This project will reflect a considerable advancement in technology. Stories of airplanes even maintaining themselves at those altitudes for a day or more make international headlines. To be able to maintain themselves as well as support the weight of transmission equipment and energy collectors will be a giant leap forward.
jahnkwitz, you make a very good point. Wouldn't it be better to have a platform such as a lighter than air craft, which can remain on station and has been proven? The real technology that makes something like this viable is the transmission of power using microwaves or lasers. The choice of a technology to keep the platofrm aloft should be the subject of an engineering trade study, not a business plan item.
Good ideas, naperlou. I know we transmit communication signals via microwave, but wouldn't a useful power source involve intense microwave radiation or lasers? Would this pose a danger to living things and aircraft?
Yes, jhankwitz, I agree that this project is going to take a serious leap in technology. This isn't something that's going to happen tomorrow, but I think it can happen at some point and would have a lot of benefits. I do think a lot about safety concerns, though, and this system better be foolproof before it takes to the air.
Also a good point, Lou. I think everyone who commented here is right about some of the technology issues that arise with this sort of deployment, and that perhaps there might be better alteratives. Maybe the team developing this system will also realize this as they are working on this project.
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