Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

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.

Related items

Geographical Week

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

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The 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

  • 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 green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

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...

Oceans

Tourism might be an economic pillar for many countries surrounding…

Wildlife

Brain sizes directly shown to correlate to survival rates among…

Wildlife

Celebrated author Professor Tim Birkhead provides a fascinating insight into…

Oceans

The world’s most biodiverse seagrass region – Indonesia’s Coral Triangle…

Oceans

Ocean conservation group urges world governments to step up action…

Climate

As climate conditions at the 100th meridian, the traditional United…

Climate

International shipping may be attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, but…

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…

Oceans

As Chile’s president leaves office, the country designates large expanses…

Energy

More than two years after first being announced, the International…

Wildlife

The winner of the 2018 Whitley Gold Award is Pablo…

Polar

Celebrate World Penguin Day with this selection of penguin-related stories…

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…