Kite wind farms take off in UK as future of energy

By Kitty Knowles 30 May 2017
Pic: KiteGen.

These are awesome to behold.

The UK has just given the world’s first kite farm the green light. Does this mean we’re gliding forth into a new frontier of energy?

Greenpeace’s Zachary Davies Boren, certainly hopes so.

Why kite windfarms?

Kite farms have been designed to harvest energy from the most powerful winds, which are way up in the air.

These winds have twice the velocity of those near ground level, with up to eight times the power density – a potent source of untapped energy.

“There is enough energy in high altitude winds to power civilization 100 times over,” says Professor Ken Caldeira of Stanford University.

According to Greenpeace’s Energydesk, there are nearly 50 commercial high-altitude wind energy projects in development.

How does it work?

Different companies have produced several different approaches to wind energy.

Most famous, perhaps, is the Altaeros, a blimp-like balloon with a giant turbine that spins in its centre.

Makani Power, recently acquired by Google X, is  essentially a tethered aircraft; while other companies have developed smaller tethered balloon-like devices known as ‘kytoons’.

But it’s true kite mechanisms that appear to be leading the high-altitude energy scene – in Europe at least.

This month, Kite Power Systems were given the go-ahead to launch the UK’s first kite power plant. This uses 20 kites which are tethered to generators on the ground. These work in pairs to generate electricity, flying in loops at more than 100mph.

Both KiteGen in Italy and SkySails in Hamburg, also employ similar kites and methods.

Why should you care?

Most accept that green energy is the future, but hesitate at cost efficiency.

In recent years, offshore wind farms have benefitted from relaxed penalties and restrictions – it’s cheaper than new nuclear power, and nearly cost-competitive with other types of energy. Nearly.

Now, the promise of constant winds from high-altitude farms could radically cut energy costs (unless you invest in oil).

There is great potential for the sector:

Its rise won’t be a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’.