There’s wind in that thar sky ... That’s the sort of thing that – conceivably – might be wistfully said by someone who is tasked with looking for locations in which to locate wind turbines. Their job could soon be getting a little easier, however, thanks to a new balloon-based wind-prospecting system.

The prototype, which is being developed by a team at the University of Barcelona, consists of a tethered helium balloon that carries a four-kilogram (8.8-lb) sensor module. That balloon is three meters (9.8 feet) long, and has a shape that’s “similar to a saddled seabream” – that’s a type of fish. Such a distinctive design allows it to withstand wind gusts of up to 150 km/h (93 mph). It can be raised to a maximum height of 150 meters (492 feet), on a cable with a breaking strength of 600 kilograms (1,323 lbs).

The idea is that the balloon could be tethered to a buoy in marine environments, then moved around to record the strength and consistency of the wind in different locations, and at different altitudes. Data collected by the sensor module can be sent via Wi-Fi to a land-based monitoring and recording unit. Anti-collision lights on the balloon could allow it to remain aloft indefinitely.

According to the researchers, marine wind prospecting is presently carried out by constructing measurement systems such as meteorological towers on fixed platforms in the ocean. The balloon would reportedly be much less expensive to implement, and have less environmental impact on the seabed.

While preliminary tests of the system have been very promising, the team is still trying to determine if the balloon and module could withstand the rigors of spending up to a year in constant use.

Source: University of Barcelona