Remote Area Forges Ahead With World’s Largest Ultra-High-Altitude Wind Farm

January 17, 2024 by John Nieman

Tibet has launched the largest ultra-high-altitude wind farm seen yet, and engineers are finding new ways to minimize challenges and optimize the wind power of these remote environments.

Wind farms in high-altitude locations offer intense winds but pose challenging obstacles, making turbine design and equipment maintenance difficult.


Wind farms in high altitudes face special challenges.

Wind farms in high altitudes face special challenges. Image used courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


One team in Tibet has just brought the world’s largest ultra-high-altitude wind farm online, located at 15,256 feet in elevation.

The 100-megawatt wind farm in Tibet will power about 140,000 homes in the surrounding area. The farm includes 25 turbines covering 1.5 square miles. It will generate 2,000 million kWh of electricity and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 160,000 tonnes. It cost more than $90 million to build. 


The Energy Goldmine of Ultra-High-Altitude Wind

Certain geographic features on land tend to produce strong and consistent channels of wind.  But such features, including mountain ranges, are hardly ubiquitous, so the opportunities for wind farms to capture wind power are often limited by unchangeable topography. 

Ultra-high-altitude winds are unique because the complete freedom from friction leads to rapid wind energy growth. Jet streams between 4-10 miles above the earth's surface regularly produce winds at 100 miles per hour. 

Engineers in the wind power sector have been steadily reaching for these high winds, even from the ground. 


The continuous growth of wind turbines

The continuous growth of wind turbines. Image used courtesy of NYOWA


Rather than building taller turbine towers, engineers are finding natural sites at very high elevations with rich opportunities for wind farm technology. Because transporting manufactured turbine equipment becomes increasingly difficult for extremely long turbines, utilizing ultra-high-altitude sites obviates the need to keep lengthening turbine towers and finding ways to ship them safely.


Blade Degradation and Structural Stability Challenges of Ultra-High-Altitude Locations

While the energy goldmine of high-altitude winds offers more than 100 times the power needed to support the entire planet, engineers face significant struggles combating the harsh climate’s effects on turbine structures and stabilizing them for operation. 

The wind power industry has been seeking methods and materials to protect turbine blades from sun exposure, moisture, and extreme temperatures, all of which can converge in an environment like the site in Tibet. 


Turbine blade erosion caused by weather.

Turbine blade erosion caused by weather. Image used courtesy of  Department of Energy


Epoxy resin is the current industry standard for blade material, comprising approximately 82% of all blades manufactured. While this material is durable, it is not recyclable, leading to another complicating factor for the wind power industry. Experts from the University of Cambridge suggest that 43 million tons of waste will result from turbine blades by 2050.

Hu Jiansheng, project head in Tibet, has asserted the team uses a special technique to spray the turbine blades to fight corrosion and extend equipment life span to help reduce wind turbine landfill waste. Specific details of the team’s technique have not been released. Engineers are examining a variety of coatings and techniques that can be used and adapted for specific environmental challenges.

To help combat structural instability, the Tibetan team also utilized stability control technology to optimize turbine performance. 


The Impact on Future Research

Perhaps even more important than the immediate electricity provided, this ultra-high-altitude wind farm will be a critical research and information-gathering source. The wind sector is growing rapidly and exploring offshore wind farms, ultra-high altitudes, and airborne technologies, which might help capture these powerful jet streams that can play a pivotal role in the global shift to renewable energy.