Check out these 3 innovative solutions from young energy companies

A prototype high-altitude wind turbine sits ready for testing. (© Altaeros Energies)

New approaches to harvesting energy are taking shape. Three ingenious projects give you a taste of what the energy future might look like.

The sky is the limit

The wind turbine is sprouting wings. Altaeros Energies, a Boston-based company funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has developed a high-altitude wind turbine.

According to Popular Science magazine, a helium-filled shell tethered to a power station lifts a turbine to heights as lofty as 600 meters, where winds blow at twice the ground-level velocity, thus generating more power. The high-altitude turbine is less noisy and not as deadly to birds as traditional turbines.

What’s more, the high-altitude model is portable. With it, Altaeros Energies hopes to serve off-grid populations on islands or at remote research facilities. The company will launch its first high-altitude turbine in Alaska soon. Organizations in Brazil, India and other countries have expressed interest in purchasing the new turbines.

Engineers Julie and Scott Brusaw stand over their prototype “solar parking lot.” (Courtesy of Solar Roadways)

The future looks bright

What if instead of relying on street lamps at night, the roads themselves lit up? What if roads warned drivers of bad traffic? Created electricity? Two engineers who are developing Solar Roadways see these solutions as near-term.

In a CNN profile, the founders of an Idaho-based company explain how their photovoltaic solar panels, controlled by a fitted circuit with LED lights, can be programmed to configure traffic lanes or  warn of accidents.

With funding from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, Solar Roadways built a successful prototype. Though the cost of making the panels is high, according to some critics, plans are underway to install sidewalks, parking lots and an airport tarmac in the company’s hometown of Sandpoint.

An artist’s rendition of the solar wind tower. It would be the second tallest structure in the world. (Courtesy of Solar Wind Energy Tower Inc.)

Winds of change

Meet the solar wind tower, a hybrid solar-wind structure projected to generate as much clean energy as the famous Hoover Dam, about 2,000 megawatts.

So how does it work?

Water mist is cast over the top of the cylindrical structure and evaporates in the hot, dry air, cooling it. The cooler, denser air falls, creating downdrafts up to 80 kilometers an hour that turn giant turbines at the tower’s base, generating power around the clock.

Solar Wind Energy Tower Inc., the Maryland-based company behind the technology, received approval to build its inaugural tower in the Arizona border town of San Luis by 2018.