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High-flying invention harnesses wind power

April 27, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Just two years from now, you may be seeing kite-like devices over Bay Area skies generating wind power. ABC7 got a first look at this new technology.

Wind turbines are a familiar site in high-wind areas. They are one way to harness energy. However, there is a group of engineers that is convinced we should be generating power from wind at a new level -- 2,000 feet.

They have designed a self-propelled device that can take off from the ground, find optimum wind aloft, and generate electricity from its propellers. It wouldn't be wrong to call it a kite.

"It's just like a kite. We're building very large, computer-controlled kites to harness the incredible energy of the wind," says JoeBen Bevirt, founder of Joby Energy.

Bevirt is betting $5 million of his own money that he is right. He made his fortune from an invention for cameras -- the Gorillapod. He and a team of engineers and scientists, assembled from top universities, have been quietly developing and testing the technology. This is the first time they have given TV cameras proof of how close they are to deploying airborne wind turbines.

"Those winds high in the atmosphere are stronger and they're more consistent. So what that means is we generate more power more of the time using a machine that costs less money," says Bevirt.

A Joby Energy video showed how the electricity will be transferred to the power grid on the ground by a long cable.

The next-generation devices will be 20 times the size of their small tester and will be capable of powering 3,000 homes. Bevirt says that goal is only two years away. His team has created technology far more sophisticated than it appears.

"We have a really passionate, hard working team dedicated to the way we power civilization," says Bevirt.

This technology is the tip of the iceberg. The engineers will be launching even larger versions of their device in the months ahead from their field of dreams.


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