When you think about wind power, chances are the first thing that comes to mind are the giant wind turbines that are among the key harbingers of the green energy transition. It turns out, however, that there are also other ingenious ways we can harness wind power.
A German startup, for instance, has developed a kite-like electric plane that takes an unconventional approach to wind energy: Instead of a traditional wind turbine with a massive tower and huge blades, it shrinks the system into a tiny footprint and sends it into the air.
“The most important factor is that we need 10 times less material, so we can reduce costs quite dramatically,” says Florian Bauer, co-CEO of KiteKraft, the startup developing the technology, which recently tested the device for the first time. According to Bauer, the cost could be as little as half that of conventional wind energy, with the carbon footprint associated with building the devices also being lower.
As the kite flies autonomously, driven by the wind, eight small onboard rotors turn and generate energy that is sent down a thin tether back to the ground. In essence, Bauer says, it does the same work as the tips of the blades on large wind turbines, which convert the most energy in the system because they move the greatest distance as they’re pushed by the wind.
But the new technology, which came out of research at the Technical University of Munich, does that work without the same need for massive infrastructure. If KiteKraft’s tech is eventually used offshore, “you just need a ground station for the kite like a floating buoy,” Bauer says. “There’s no foundation required, like a huge tower that goes to the seafloor.”
The startup plans to work first with microgrids that haven’t been able to use wind energy in the past, such as remote islands where transporting traditional wind turbines isn’t feasible, or where there isn’t room or community support for large wind installations.
The technology is also better suited for places prone to hurricanes since, in high winds, the kite can be lowered to the ground rather than risking any damage.
After tweaking its current prototype, the company plans to begin pilot tests in microgrids. It will use that data to help prepare for larger installations.