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Tapping The Jet Stream: A New Energy Source?

Could jet streams be a new energy source to power the world's electricity? Find out on this Moment of Science.

In 2008, wind turbines generated one percent of the world’s electricity. But just imagine what could happen if we could harness the wind in jet streams–strong winds 30,000 feet up in the atmosphere focused in narrow bands circling the world.

Powering The World… With Kites?

Scientists think that jet streams harbor enough energy to power the world many times over. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to capture all that windy power. Which is where kites come in. Not just any kites, mind you.

We’re talking about flying wind turbines, like the kind on the ground with propellers spun by wind, but much lighter. The flying turbines would harness high altitude winds and transmit energy in the form of electricity through a tether attached to the ground.

That’s one possible scheme, anyhow. Whether it’s doable remains to be seen. But scientists do know that there are jet streams above massive populations centers like New York City, Tokyo, and Mexico City. That’s important because energy demand is highest where people live close together.

Down To Earth

Scientists think that with the right technology, jet streams could provide more than enough power for all of the world’s largest cities.

One problem, though, is that however powerful, even jet streams slow down and speed up. So any jet stream power system would need a way to store excess energy and have a backup system in place.

Still, high altitude winds are intriguing as a source of clean, renewable power. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to bring their abundant energy down to Earth.

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