Let’s go fly a kite: new technology to capture wind energy

Let’s go fly a kite: new technology to capture wind energy Kite Power Solutions Ltd 2015
25 Oct
2016
Could a small-scale and portable new method of generating renewable power from the wind revolutionise the energy industry?

Think of ‘wind energy’ and it’s likely your mind will conjure up a field (or sea) of wind turbines. But there are a great number of other potential ways to harness the enormous power of the wind, with as much as 95 terawatts (TW) remaining to be developed onshore, and offshore having ‘an even larger resource potential’ according to IRENA (the International Renewable Energy Agency). One such example involves that favourite wind-powered toy which has entertained generation after generation, the kite.

‘The idea first surfaced in 1975, but the material technology for the kites and the tethers was insufficient, and the microprocessors required to control the system were in their infancy,’ explains David Ainsworth, spokesperson for Kite Power Solutions (KPS). Today, however, the idea of using kites to generate renewable energy from the wind is taking off, albeit slowly, with the recent granting of consent for a KPS kite power technology test and development site in West Freugh, Scotland, described as ‘the preferred location’ by Ainsworth. ‘We believe that our project in West Freugh is the first environmentally permitted permanent site in Europe, if not the world,’ he adds.

Founded in 2011 in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, KPS aspires to ‘develop a low-cost solution to harness energy from the wind using kites’. Such technology works by flying twin kites, attached to a generator, in strong winds as high as 450m above the ground. Specially designed to fly in a circular looping path, the kites can reach over 100mph in 20mph winds, generating strong aerodynamic lifting forces. At full-scale, the 40m kites have a two to three megawatt capacity, about the same as a 100m-tall conventional turbine.

IMG 5148Launching the KPS kite (Image: Kite Power Solutions Ltd 2015)

With the highly fertile ground available for the development of wind energy, and KPS the only UK-based enterprise out of the handful of global players exploring the opportunities presented by kites, the opportunities potentially available from this technology seem significant. ‘We plan to deploy these in arrays, just like conventional wind turbines,’ explains Ainsworth, adding that the ideal base for where this technology could be located is ‘very much the same as for conventional horizontal axis wind turbines for resource, topography and footprint.’

One extra advantage kites have over permanent wind turbines is their small scale and portability, which, like solar technology, allows for temporary and/or localised community-ownership schemes. ‘We can pack a 500kW system into a single 40ft ISO container,’ says Ainsworth. ‘The target is to have the system deployed and operational – as long as there is an electrical connection – in less than a day. We can thus use single systems in isolated, off-grid communities.’

As could be imagined with anything flying as high as 450m, KPS has required constant consultation with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regarding research at its current test site in Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, which is on the approach path to Stanstead, Luton, London City, Heathrow and Gatwick airports. ‘The latest drafts of drone legislation from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) enables a process by which tethered kites can be approved for operation,’ says Ainsworth.

The first kite system flying at West Freugh is expected in April 2017. Whether the flying of such kites to generate clean energy ever ends up provoking the same levels of anger directed towards traditional onshore wind turbines remains to be seen.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

Iceland is a sparsely populated country with one of the…

Wildlife

Baltic seals and fish-eating bird populations are increasing and could…

Oceans

The UN has committed to completely stopping plastic waste from…

Wildlife

The world’s most endangered marine mammal has just been thrown…

Climate

Sixty-two of the natural World Heritage Sites are now at…

Oceans

In February 2015, maritime lawyer and cold water swimmer Lewis…

Climate

Water, water may be everywhere, but as Marco Magrini discovers,…

Energy

A deeper look at Scotland’s recent decision to ban the…

Climate

The discovery of increasing levels of ozone-depleting compounds being emitted…

Geophoto

November is a dark, quiet month, but it also marks…

Energy

Could human waste one day be fuelling our homes and…

Geophoto

Every year, the LPOTY awards celebrate the best in Britain’s…

Climate

At the 23rd Convention of the Parties (COP) climate change…

Oceans

Knowing where past coral reefs existed is a crucial component…

Oceans

Numerous low-lying Pacific islands have disappeared under rising seas

Oceans

In this exclusive film for Geographical, see how an unusually…

Climate

Marco Magrini considers why the recent devastation caused by hurricanes…

Geophoto

Country borders are some of the most controlled environments on…

Wildlife

Nature reserves and protected areas in Germany have lost 76…

Oceans

An investigation into shark fins and ray gills sold in…