Highest Wind harnesses wind power with kites

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Two years ago Dimitri Cherny, an electrical engineer who spent the past 20 years working on the sales and marketing side of technology, decided he wanted to use wind power to help drive his Portsmouth, N.H., neighborhood’s water system

Unfortunately, the coastal area near Great Bay doesn’t generate enough wind to make a turbine financially viable, leaving Cherny and his neighbors nothing to do but fly a kite, literally.

The result is Highest Wind LLC, a new company using the same principles that keep kites flying to generate small-scale wind power in areas where ground-level breezes are insufficient. Cherny, who founded the company last year with former Micronetics Inc. executive Bruce Johnson, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from friends and family and is now hoping to bring the technology to market.

Highest Wind’s system uses a device — more accurately called a glider than a kite — tethered to a cable, flying hundreds to thousands of feet in the air. As the glider rises, it pulls the tether, connected to a generator, and produces a current. The glider is then reeled back in, and the process is executed again, with the retraction of the glider taking significantly less energy than is produced when it is let out.

Highest Wind’s system can generate approximately 30 kilowatts of electricity, said Cherny, which translates into about 90,000 kilowatt-hours per year. At a common price point of 10 cents per kilowatt, the application is suitable for any facility that has a power bill of about $9,000 per year, and has open air space, he said. Golf courses, farms and vineyards are perfect examples.

His Great Bay neighborhood, however, is not one of them. After developing his idea, he quickly realized that his street’s close proximity to the Pease International Tradeport and its airport made the idea of flying a tethered glider 1,000 feet in the air impossible.

Still, he is optimistic about the potential market.

“Right away, there are some limitations to our business,” he said. “But there are some places in the country where this could be ideal — agricultural areas, for example. The key is finding the right distribution channel.”

The idea is not unheard of. The first patents for wind power generated by kites date back to the 1970s, and researchers have dabbled in the area since. Locally, a group of students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, led by associate professor of mechanical engineering David Olinger, launched the WPI Kite Power Team in 2007 and the group has been researching a kite-based power generation system since.

Professor Gretar Tryggvason, the head of the mechanical engineering department at WPI, said his school’s kite power team is also looking at applications in underdeveloped nations, where electric infrastructure and daily wind may be scarce, but open areas of space are abundant.

Highest Wind’s glider is expected to have a wingspan of about 30 feet and adopt a tri-wing form (think of the old Red Baron’s plane). The firm, with two full-time and eight part-time employees, expects to test fly a prototype of the glider this week, and expects a complete one-quarter scale prototype of the system to be ready for tests by the end of this month.

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