We are on a quest to find BETTER SOURCES of ENERGY for our planet. Wind turbines and photovoltaic systems are good alternatives, but they have some LIMITATIONS. We need something CHEAPER, more SCALABLE and MORE CONSTANT! For quite a while now some researchers and engineers think to have it found. This solution would be to capture the ENERGY of HIGH ALTITUDE WINDS through a flying kite or plane! At this moment, half a dozen of startups are working on this project around the world. They all have the same goal: producing a CHEAP, CONSTANT and CLEAN energy for our world. Their work is now beyond the proof of concept and is entering a new phase to be soon industrialized. Are you ready for this new promising green industry of airborne wind turbines?
Why is this promising?
It is promising because wind is a formidable source of unlimited and sustainable energy. According to a Stanford University study, exploiting 1% of the winds would permit to fulfill ALL our needs! But, wait, we already have wind turbines, isn’t it enough for that?
Not really! Conventional wind turbines have some serious disadvantages. Indeed, most are not high enough to get stronger and more constant wind. The higher is the wind turbine, the more expensive and more difficult to build and maintain it is. The highest wind turbine in the world is currently built by General Electric. It is planned to reach 260m high, it is a record! That’s cool, for sure! But it is still not high enough! And on top of that, conventional wind turbines are… static! When there is no wind coming right through them, they just stop working. And we cannot move them from one place to another to be in a new air-stream. As a result they generate energy about 20% of the time.
So how to do better?
There is a way to get free from these two constraints. It is called an airborne wind turbine and the excitation about it is getting momentum year after year! With this kind of turbine the principle of energy generation is different. The blades are replaced by small fixed-wing or soft-wing aircrafts. They are attached to a ground station by one or several cables. The wind naturally makes rise the aircraft at high altitude. As the aircraft gains altitude, the cable is unwinded and it makes turn a spool which is itself connected to a generator. Sometimes the generator itself is in the aircraft with little turbines on it…
Technically, these new « blades » can fly very high. So they can reach stronger and more constant winds. For a same amount of power, it is cheaper to build and use an airborne wind turbine than a conventional one. And actually, a standard airborne wind turbine would generate even more energy than a standard conventional one!
More energy than a conventional wind turbine, really?
The CEO of Enerkite says that with just one of his kites he can provides enough energy for 100 homes per year! The KiteGen team even pretends to be able to generate in the near fututre as much energy as 5 nuclear plants with a revolutionary carousel approach! They want to attach 270 flying kites to a train and make it move on a circular path to generate huge amount of energy.
And airborne wind turbines have some big fans too! Such as Google and the founder of Microsoft himself! Indeed, Bill Gates is convinced about it. According to him, there is a 10 percent chance that airborne wind turbine would be the “magic solution” to our energy problems.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) this new kind of wind turbine should be available on the market in 2025!
As you can see, there are a lot of expectations around this new tech and the potential is huge. On your side, you can work on your own BUSINESS to help emerge and become more common this new tech around the world. We will see below how you can do that!
I hope you can see now how promising this industry of airborne wind turbines is!
But who is working on this and what have they accomplished so far?
There are many companies working on the subject. Most of these are located in the USA or in Europe. They do not have the same approach but they share the same goal. And they face more or less the same difficulties!
Let’s first talk about Makani. Makani has been acquired by Google in 2013 (and it is a good counter-example of what I previously depicted about some startups here!).
In September 2019, their fixed-wing aircraft successfully took off and generated energy at high altitude from an offshore station! And that was yet another important step towards industrialization!
The Makani team developed a hybrid fixed-wing motorized aircraft which can use its motors to take off and change its position. The blades of the aircraft are then used to produce energy the rest of the time, when it planes. With this approach, it is easy to control the aircraft. Here the aircraft is equipped with blades and a generator. They are thinking about proposing this as a solution to generate energy for coastal cities.
The Enerkite team has a different approach. Although they also use a fixed-wing aircraft, the energy is generated differently. This time the generator is in a truck. When the cable is unwinding it makes turn a spool which is itself connected to a generator. The plane goes up to the sky doing a “eight” pattern. Once the plane has reached the maximum altitude it is gently headed to goes down in altitude. The goal is to repeat the cycle again and again.
Kite Power Systems
But a soft-wing aircraft, such as a kite, is much less dangerous! The Kite Power Stations team uses two kites at the same time. While one in going up to the sky, the second one is going down to the ground. This way there is always one kite generating energy. They claim to generate enough energy for 380 homes per year with this approach.
Other interesting projects
Now you can even buy your own home airborne wind turbine thanks to the French startup Kitewinder! Why not generate more energy for your net zero house with this kite. Awesome, right?
Minesto proposes to uses the same approach but with WATER currents! They claim that with this approach the amount of generated energy would be 800 times bigger.
The promising new green industry of airborne wind turbines.
Most airborne wind turbine projects are still in the development phase. But as soon as they enter in the industrialization phase, there will be a lot of direct and indirect opportunities for everyone. Indeed, there will be a need for specialized operating companies to install, operate and maintain these new power stations. And as these power stations are meant to be geographically distributed. A lot of teams will be needed to operate all these stations at the same time! This is good news for you! You could create your own airborne wind turbine operating company!
And as such a power station cannot be installed everywhere for obvious reasons. Consulting companies will be here to help people choose the best place and to make sure everything is OK with the legislation. Municipalities, companies and simple owners will use their service! Your services, if you want it!
There will be a lot of equipment that needs to be produced, repaired, installed and provided. Such as: cables, attaches, wing parts, etc. There will be also an important need for professional formations. Again you can be a part of that.
According to the AWEA there are currently 114,000 workers in the wind energy sector just in the USA. And there will be up to 600,000 workers in the USA by 2050 according to a Wind Vision Report! And they are only talking about conventional wind turbines, not about airborne wind turbines! Actually there is a big chance there will be much more workers in this field by 2050!
We can see that most of the airborne wind turbine projects passed the proof of concept phase. The next step will probably be to improve the autonomous control of the aircraft. This way, it will be easy to start, perform and end energy production cycles. It means that the aircraft should be able to easily take off, go up into the sky to produce the energy and come back to the initial position. All of these things with as little energy consumption as possible! And the cycles have to repeat again an again.
But, to be industrialized, a series of long-term tests should be performed. The wear and tear as well as the long-term efficiency has still to be observed over a longer period. A lot of paperwork will be in the pipe to change the aviation regulation! Because yes, these small aircrafts will fly quite high in the sky! And by the time the first generation of airborne wind turbines will enter the market, the manufacturers will be working on the second! This is very exciting!
As a green entrepreneur you could create, at this moment, a company to be an actor in this growing and potentially big green industry. So, are you ready for this promising new green industry of airborne wind turbines?
I would be happy to read your suggestions in the comments to make this article more useful for you! And if you notice a dead link or an outdated information, please let me know!