High-Altitude Power

Patrick McFadden
November 5, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2015


Fig. 1: High-Altitude Wind Device. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As the search for new forms of energy continues, it is possible that the solution to the world's energy problems lies in the air above. While the past century has relied on non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas; the future will need to adapt to renewable energy resources. Strides have been made to harness the power of the sun, wind, and water to create perpetual power, but there is still work to be done. High-altitude wind power has the potential to be a major contributor to the 21st centuries' energy needs. [1]

What is High-Altitude Wind Power?

High-altitude wind power harnesses the powerful jet streams located over 1,000 feet above the earth's surface. The general idea of harnessing the energy involves connecting a object to the ground that is able to float thousands of feet above the ground like a kite or a balloon. The energy is either gathered by the device in the sky, or by the energy being transported to the base where electricity is produced. High-altitude wind power is a recent discovery that has the potential to create a steady supply of energy for hundreds of years to come. [2]

Why High-Altitude Wind Power?

The advantages of harnessing high-altitude wind revolve around its renewability, consistency, and potential to be low cost. Currently, wind accounts for 4.4% of all electricity that is produced in the United States. All of this wind electricity currently is produced by wind turbines or sails on the ground level. However, it is difficult for this number to increase to a substantial percentange of the US production due to the inconsistency of wind near the ground along with the space necessary for these devices. High- altitude wind power allows for the potential of harnessing accessible high-powered jet streams that does not require as much land space on the ground level. Wind power is also advantageous because it is highly usable without causing issues with the environment. [3]

Status of High-Altitude Wind Power

The devices for taking advantage of this powerful energy source are still in production, but there are various companies attempting to solve this dilemma. Currently, there are more than 20 companies working to develop technology that would harness this plethora of energy. Many of these companies have early models, but are still a ways away from a working device. However, many of these companies have already identified prime locations for these devices such as in the American Great Plains, some areas over the Pacific and Atlantic ocean, and in the Horn of Africa near Somalia. These companies are hopeful that high-altitude wind energy will begin being turned into electricity in the next decade.


High-altitude wind power is a viable and exciting future energy source. It has the capability of producing a large percentage of the world's energy in the near future if advances are made in technology. The air above may be the answer to the world's energy needs.

© Patrick McFadden. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] C. L. Archer and K. Caldeira, "Global Assessment of High-Altitude Wind Power," Energies 2, 307 (2009).

[2] J. Vidaurre, "High Altitude Wind Turbines," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2012.

[3} L. M. Miller, F. Gans, and A. Kleidon, "Jet Stream Wind Power as a Renewable Energy Resource: Little Power, Big Impacts," Earth Syst. Dynam. 2, 201 (2011).