It is become obvious to the rational observer that our current methods of dirty energy production need to fizzle out. Someday future generations will look back in awe, and wonder why we held onto antiquated and archaic coal and oil. All this being done while knowing pollution from burning fossil fuels is literally killing us, as well as the animal and plant life around us. How could we be so irresponsible? Why the hell took us so long to move to better options?
Luckily the world is spattered with creative thinkers who are dedicating their lives to perpetuating the existence of the human race by designing and implementing sustainable energy sources that don’t poison us. We are all familiar to the rise of wind and solar over the last few years, but there are serious limitations that have held both back from mainstream use. Although the technology is improving exponentially every year, the efficiency seems to fall short of demand in many cases, and the costs are often out of reach for the average consumer.
With solar specifically, one of the greatest limitations is weather patterns effect how much sunlight will actually even reach the panels. That is why we often see solar farms popping up in deserts instead of on rooftops in notoriously cloudy locations. To get around this challenge, we need to get around the clouds…or more accurately, above them.
French solar researcher Jean-Francois Guillemoles is doing just that. He has proposed design and construction of floating solar balloons that he believes can generate three times as much power-per-foot as traditional rooftop or solar farm panels. It’s easy to see how, when these balloons would never be limited by a cloudy day, and therefore could be implemented in locations once thought unsuitable for solar.
Guillemoles is a senior researcher at CNRS, which is a French research institution that is currently collaborating on this idea with a group out of Japan. They have set their sites on releasing a working prototype of this design in their lab (NextPV), within 2 years.
The balloon would not only capture the sun’s energy, but would store it in an onboard fuel cell. The fuel cell would take the captured energy and convert the current into hydrogen which would be used to keep the balloon floating continuously. At night time, the fuel cell would recover the hydrogen and convert it back into a charge, which it would send down the tether to the ground for use.
In addition to the obvious benefits of uninterrupted daytime energy harvesting, these balloons would be lighter than traditional solar panels, requiring less energy for production and transportation. Of course, the other benefit is the this could literally be implemented anywhere on earth without hogging up land that could be used for other purposes.
“Such a solar generator would be vey easy and fast to install as well as to move or remove when required, and land use is minimal. It has potential to make solar energy more sustainable and faster to deploy on a larger scale” – Jean-Francois Guillemoles
Google Loon has already demonstrated the feasibility of balloons at this altitude recently with the intention of increasing internet access to various locations around the world with difficult terrain.