Giant kites provide renewable energy when wind turbines aren’t up to the job
Why it matters to you
New wind power technology could be used where it’s difficult for conventional wind turbines to be installed.
“Let’s go fly a kite” used to be a cheerful refrain from the end of Disney’s Mary Poppins. As it turns out, it could be a crucially important idea in the drive toward efficient use of renewable energy. That’s based on the work of a United Kingdom company called Kite Power Systems. They’ve developed smart technology for obtaining power from the wind with the aid of custom-built giant kites that fly in pairs, hundreds of feet up in the sky, with their movements powering a generator on the ground.
“The KPS system has two hybrid kites that are flown as high as 1,500 feet,” David Ainsworth, Kite Power Systems’ business development director, told Digital Trends. “Their tethers are attached to a winch system that generates electricity as it spools out. By achieving flight speeds of up to 100mph in 20mph winds, the kite’s tether tension causes the line to rapidly spool out from a drum, which turns a generator producing electricity. The two kites fly in the same airspace, and are fully automated so energy production is therefore constant and energy yield can be maximized.”
The big advantage over traditional wind turbines is the lower cost in terms of the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE). According to Ainsworth, Kite Power Systems’ technology can reduce the capex of conventional offshore turbines by as much as 50 percent, due to the fact that the system doesn’t require large quantities of steel or specialist installation vessels.
Thus far, the technology has been successfully trialed and tested in the United Kingdom. A 40kW system is currently being tested at an airfield in Scotland, while a larger 500kW system is also in the works. The company aims to achieve commercialization within the next 3-5 years.
“Before we consider venturing into overseas markets, we first intend to develop a kite farm in Scotland — but rest assured we have our eye on the U.S. market and indeed other countries around the world,” Ainsworth said. “Given that our system can be deployed in onshore and offshore locations, we see fantastic opportunities in the U.S. for kite power. For example, off the West Coast where it’s difficult for conventional wind turbines to be installed.”
Between this, kite-shaped drones, and Google X’s not-dissimilar Makani Power project, kites have never been cooler. Or more useful.