Most of us associate kites with our childhood. Perhaps, it is time to rethink that concept today. A California-based company named Makani in collaboration with energy giant Shell has created a self-flying ‘energy kite’ that aims to tap into the growing wind power around the world.
This is exciting news because the technology that has been developed can harness the strongest winds in the middle of the ocean. These are spots that are too far for the offshore turbines to reach. The company’s autonomous and light-weight kite looks like an airplane strapped to a base and installed on a floating platform in the water. Currently, tests are underway off the coast of Norway to determine the feasibility of the device.
You would be surprised to know that merely 6 percent of the world’s energy comes from wind power at present. Makani’s goal is to utilize the energy kite to produce utility-scale power which will in turn help in electrifying communities around the world.
An energy kite uses a wing that is bound to a ground station to effectively harness energy from the wind. As the kite reaches a height of about 300 meters (984 feet), it starts gliding in a vertical loop. When the kite flies independently in a loop, the rotors on its wing spin as the wind moves through them and drive a permanent magnet motor-generator. This allows the production of electricity that moves down the conductive tether and is transferred onto the grid.
Apart from being super lightweight, these kites are made of carbon fiber and have an 85-foot (26 meters) wingspan. The device is launched from a base station and is bound by a 1,400-foot (426.7 meters) tether. It then flies autonomously in circles with the assistance of computers. The company has stated that each of these kites has the capacity to generate around 600 kilowatts of electrical power. This would be sufficient to power almost 300 homes.
Furthermore, these energy kites are almost 90 percent lighter than turbines of an identical power rating. Their benefits are hence numerous.
Millions of people who live near the ocean don’t have a good resource for renewable power but do have offshore wind resources. These lightweight energy kites can make it possible for tapping that resource in the most economical way while also bringing renewable power to countless people's homes.
“Currently there is no available technology that can economically produce energy from the wind in these places,” technical program manager Doug McLeod was quoted as saying at the Airborne Wind Energy Conference 2019. “As a floating airborne wind energy technology, Makani believes that we can unlock this stranded resource.”
Image credit: Makani
Initially, two tests were conducted at the North Sea in August 2019. The first flight was a quick one and the second was a longer-duration test that followed commands from the flight controller. Both the tests relayed plenty of useful information to the engineers that they will use to conduct more simulated test flights and further enhance the system.
Meanwhile, the results of the ongoing tests in Norway will soon determine if the energy kites can survive and function in a range of environmental conditions and will also help perfect their landings at sea. If these tests prove to be successful, it could be a breakthrough for floating offshore wind and become a big step towards increased access to energy resources that have been trapped for long above waters that are too deep for fixed wind turbines. Most importantly, it will help provide electricity to so many people who live along the world’s coastlines.
Visit the Makani website for more details.