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Stranger than Fiction Energies of the Future

By Cameron Bard
April 12, 2010
File under: Alternative Sources, Energy Sources

The term “alternative energy” has been around for a long time, and surely the words “solar panels” and “wind turbines” no longer sound futuristic, but the fact of the matter is that emerging energy technologies are coming out everyday, and sometimes with a strange twist.

Here are four of the oddest and most extraordinary alternative energies to date. From kites to entire islands, the future of replacing fossil fuels is getting creative.

High Flying Wind Turbines and Kites

Source: Sky WindPower

At an altitude of 30,000 feet the wind power is 20 times greater than what it is available on the ground. That being said, manufacturers at Sky WindPower are attempting to capture this potential energy by sending up giant wind turbines high into the air that could convert it to electricity to be used back on earth. It has been estimated that converting merely 1% of all the high altitude currents could produce enough power for everyone on earth.

Source: Delft University of Technology

Researches at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have proposed the idea of what they call a “laddermill.” To capture these powerful wind currents at high altitudes, proponents have suggested flying what they call “kiteplanes” up in the air.

Combining the ascension characteristics of kites with the descension characteristics of airplanes, the laddermill creates a looping movement of kiteplanes held together by an extremely strong cable that is connected to a generator that captures the produced energy.

Energy from Footsteps

Source: POWERleap

You may have heard of the concept of capturing energy from stationary bikes and using it to power appliances, but what about creating energy from something a little less stressful, like walking?

The alternative energy company POWERleap is trying to do just that with their invention of a technology that generates electricity from human foot traffic. Imagine entire stretches of sidewalks or floors of dance clubs creating energy while you walk or dance all contributing to decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Energy Islands

Source: Energy Island

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is a method for generating electricity by using the warm surface water of tropical oceans which has been heated by the sun.  This warm water heats low boiling point fluids (like ammonia) to create steam which drives a heat engine. The colder, deeper water is then pumped up to the surface to cool down the warm fluid enabling the process to be repeated.

The main challenge of OTEC is to do this process efficiently, a point that the company The Energy Island Group is attempting to solve. What the Energy Island does is create a floating island that houses the technology of OTEC and combines it with other energy options such as wind turbines and solar panels to make the whole process more productive and efficient; the island even has a water desalination plant.

These floating islands could produce an estimated 250 MW of electricity, or enough power to supply all the energy use in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And if multiple islands were moored together, the output could be drastically higher.

Solar Power from Space

Image: ©Mafic Studios, Inc.

Along the same lines as the high flying wind energy, the utility company PG&E hopes to tap solar power in space where the available energy is eight to ten times greater than on earth.

The concept is extremely advanced, in which the partnering solar company Solaren would generate the power using solar panels in earth’s orbit and then converting it into radio frequency energy for transmission to a receiving station somewhere in the U.S.

The good news for developers is that real estate is free all the way up in space, the bad news is that getting everything up there is tremendously costly.

Image: ©Mafic Studios, Inc.

Comments (7) Email Link
  1. H Collins
    July 22, 2009 12pm UTC

    I had never heard of an Energy Island, and at first I thought it sounded like the name of a reality TV show–haha, just kidding. It is a very cool and innovative idea. The future of energy is both scary and exciting– it makes you wonder what other untapped sources we overlook that will someday be very important. Footsteps, too– maybe someday my favorite clubs will be able to power themselves on a busy Friday night. Very interesting. I also love the futuristic pictures.

  2. MPThreePO
    July 22, 2009 1pm UTC

    It only makes sense that wind and solar are more magnified the higher the altitude. What would be interesting is a formulaic process of breaking down the altitude vs. cost analysis. In layman’s terms, at what altitude does the cost of installing the contraption outweigh the benefits of the higher magnification of the energy? I can only assume that a high flying wind kite is X amount more expensive than a grounded turbine, and likewise, a solar panel in space is exponentially more expensive than a solar panel on a roof. It’s all very interesting and only time will tell what technologies prove worthwhile.

  3. Celia Congdon
    July 23, 2009 9am UTC

    Fascinating ideas. I’m curious if the sidewalk idea is fairly easy to install as it would be a no brainer for high density cities where foot traffic is constant.

    I’ve heard about very deep water turbines off the West Coast.Do you know anything about this?

    Also, what is the likelihood any of these ideas come to fruition?

    Keep up the good work at Ecomii.

  4. Cameron Bard
    July 27, 2009 11am UTC

    I haven’t heard of the deep water turbines, most likely they involve a similar OTEC process, using deep water temperature difference to power turbines through a heating and cooling system. However, off shore wind turbines are gaining popularity. Much like the idea of high altitude wind kites, the wind power can be stronger and more reliable the further off shore you go.

    The likelihood of these ideas coming to fruition? Well, looking at similar case studies such as solar might give you an idea. Solar has been called a viable alternative to fossil fuels since the ’70s, yet as far as it going mainstream it has been a disappointment. My guess is some of these “stranger” energy options will advance in test forms and prototypes for a while until the financial backing really gathers steam.

    Thanks for the questions,


  5. Jane Hadley
    July 31, 2009 6pm UTC

    Great article! Had never heard of many of these ideas before.

  6. Rachel Roush
    August 9, 2009 5pm UTC

    Really intriguing ideas! What a great opportunity for venture capitalists who can afford to take the long view. It looks like PG&E is the most prominent company behind these new ventures. I wonder how much they’re actually spending on researching the solar panels in space, and whether they’re anywhere near setting a timetable.

  7. QG
    August 10, 2009 1pm UTC

    Really interesting article, thanks for this. In response to MPThreePO’s comment, I think a breakdown of cost is, of course, going to effect which of these ideas really take off and become primary suppliers of energy for our world in the years to come…however, as fossil fuels dwindle, I wonder if cost is going to even be taken into account? Our world functions on energy. Can we really make a cost-effective/budget plan for something we need that we are running out of resources for?

    Love that footsteps idea…it could be just the thing to get more people up and walking, too. Exercising to create energy. Great incentive.

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