Did you know that wind power at high altitudes can be harnessed through kites?
The Greening the Islands Observatory is glad to have recently welcomed a new member representing this ground-breaking technology which generates electricity from wind energy by using specifically designed kites: Airborne Wind Europe. Airborne Wind Europe is a European industry association representing Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) companies.
Kristian Petrick, Secretary General of Airborne Wind Europe, concerning joining GTI: “We are very glad to join the network of the GTI Observatory as a member as this will give the Airborne Wind Energy technology a much higher visibility in the island community. Islands will get a aware of new possibilities to harness high altitude wind and to reach their renewable energy targets.”
Islands are often synonymous with idyllic beaches, crystal-clear waters, and pristine landscapes. Yet, these isolated pieces of land face unique challenges, especially in terms of energy generation. Many islands face significant energy challenges, as they often depend on imported fossil fuels for their energy needs, leaving them vulnerable to supply disruptions and environmental degradation. Fortunately, Airborne Wind Europe offers an innovative solution that tackles these challenges head-on. By effectively addressing limitations like limited available space, susceptibility to extreme weather events, social acceptance issues, and inadequate regulatory and market frameworks, this approach clears the way for sustainable and resilient energy solutions on islands, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and promoting environmental preservation.
In particular, AWE offers a cost-effective alternative to diesel-based power generation for isolated off-grid small communities in remote location on islands, facilitating the development of mini-grids where traditional wind power technologies could face logistical hurdles due to a lack of necessary infrastructures.
Islands, due to their unique geographical characteristics, have a greater vulnerability to external factors than mainland regions, which include environmental, logistical and economic aspects. Airborne Wind Energy is a game-changing solution – especially for islands, off-grid and remote communities – due to the following advantages
1. High cost-effectiveness
Several factors enhance the economic viability of AWE technology. Firstly, its reduced material usage leads to a decrease in capital costs (CAPEX). Additionally, AWE enjoys a relatively high-capacity factor (that is, functioning for higher number of hours per day), therefore reducing the necessity of energy storage. The streamlined logistics, swift setup, and remarkable power density per square-kilometer of AWE systems collectively contribute to a substantial reduction in the Levelized Costs of wind Energy (LCOE). Already today, AWE systems have LCOE below 20 cents per kWh, making them competitive with diesel generation. Over the next years a strong cost decrease can be expected due to economies of scale and increasing experience.
2. Ease of deployment
Due to its compactness, ease of transport and deployment AWE systems represent an ideal solution for islands, employing a lightweight tether andestablishing a connection between the kite and a ground station that is containerized but also scalable.
3. Low visual and environmental impact
AWE’s operational footprint is characterized by minimal visual and environmental impact throughout its life cycle, making it a suitable candidate for deployment even in environmentally sensitive areas. The environmental impact studies that have been performed at AWE test sites show a comparatively low impact on birds as kites operate at altitudes less frequented by several species. Additionally, relatively slow movement of kites and tethers through the air minimizes the risk for bats, as kites do not generate significant air pressure differentials. In the event of excessive wind or approaching bird swarms or other aircraft, kites can be automatically landed and relaunched once the conditions are favourable again.
4. Improved wind exploitation and complementarity with other renewable technologies
AWE unlocks access to the untapped wind resource at altitudes up to 800m with up to 90% less material with respect to a conventional turbine, and a maximum capacity of 200 kW per system. The enhanced wind speeds at higher altitudes make AWE particularly advantageous for remote communities on islands, enabling them to harness a renewable resource that would otherwise be inaccessible.
AWE also offers the flexibility of continuously adjusting the harvesting altitude to optimize wind resource exploitation, enhancing complementarity with other renewable energy sources in both stand-alone and hybrid systems, thus improving energy access and system integration.
5. Disaster relief
The AWE system makes its lightweight a strength in terms of system versatility by offering a compelling solution for rapidly deploying disaster-relief power supply. In context vulnerable to extreme whether phenomena such as hurricanes or typhoons, AWE systems can be promptly grounded and securely stored.
Greening the Islands and Airborne Wind Europe have joined forces producing a position paper highlighting some key recommendations to accelerate the development of this technology and its uptake on islands.
What is the space needed?
AWE systems require open space within a 400 m to 850 m radius around the ground station, without buildings, high structures, roads or trainlines to reduce potential ground risks in case of kite malfunctioning.
Can it only be deployed onshore or also offshore?
AWE systems can be deployed over water, providing the opportunity for offshore wind energy generation. This approach minimizes visual and environmental impact, an essential consideration for many island communities.
What are the wind speed requirements?
The windier the site the better the performance of the system, however, given the higher altitude of wind collection, kites can also be used on sites with little wind for which the minimum required speed is 4-5 m/s.
How versatile are the applications of AWE systems?
In areas with grid connections, AWE systems can feed directly into the power grid. Otherwise, they can provide energy for self-consumption, support farms, remote industrial activities, store energy in batteries, power electric vehicle charging stations, serve as disaster relief power supply units, or cater to event-related power needs.
What is the current capacity?
Currently, AWE developers are predominantly focused on systems with capacities around 100 kW, typically ranging from 50 to 200 kW. Multiple systems can be installed together in wind farms, potentially reaching the megawatt-range, with the distance between ground stations roughly half the tether length. In the coming years, AWE systems of 500 kW and above 1 MW are anticipated to be available on the market in the next years.
What is the jobs creation potential?
AWE systems currently necessitate more O&M than conventional wind turbines. Depending on conditions, soft kites and parts of the tether may require replacement approximately once a year. Some systems, that are not fully automated yet, may require staff for launch and land manoeuvres which can be trained within a few days or weeks, providing jobs opportunities for local communities.
“We would like to see Airborne Wind Energy becoming part of the future renewable energy mix. Already today we are competitive in markets where we compete with diesel-based generation. In many locations across the world, AWE will be the only viable way to tap into wind resources due to logistical or environmental factors. It is key that the established wind players see AWE as another promising opportunity for the entire wind energy sector.” (Kristian Petrick, Secretary General of Airborne Wind Europe)
First application on islands: Mauritius and Taiwan
The first AWE companies have started commercialising their systems. A major milestone was achieved in 2022 when Skysails Power connected their 150kW-softkite ground-gen system to the grid of Mauritius where its output substitutes the island’s diesel-generated power. Customer is the IBL Group, a company from Mauritius active in various sectors – including energy generation – and several countries.
Taiwan is set to host the next installation in a groundbreaking two-year test program at Taipower’s Changbin photovoltaic field. This initiative marks a significant milestone as it will be the first location in Asia to deploy autonomous kites or sails for wind power generation.
In 2024, a 200-kilowatt-capacity sail power generation system will be installed, flying at altitudes ranging from 200 to 400 meters. The two-year testing phase will serve as a foundation for future deployments, potentially extending to remote island areas that are challenging to reach through traditional electrical grids.
Airborne Wind Energy is moving towards a cleaner and more sustainable future for island communities. As it continues to evolve and gain acceptance, these paradises in the sea are ready to harness the power of the wind above their skies, reducing their environmental impact, and becoming beacons of energy resilience. The horizon is bright for a greener tomorrow.