Monster steel towers, turbines weighing tons, 90-meter rotor blades: Windmills have reached such gigantic proportions that they can only be assembled with special cranes. That sends the costs sky-high too: a single day’s construction site for a 200-meter mill, for example, costs up to €120,000, according to wind turbine builder Enercon and the price is even higher if the turbine is installed at sea.
Energy companies such as E.ON are looking for alternatives to conventional wind power plants that are easier and less expensive to build and maintain. Under Germany’s energy transition, the entire country should operate on 80 percent renewables by 2050.
E.ON’s best bet so far is what’s known as airborne wind energy systems. E.ON is investing €3 million to bolster what could be groundbreaking technology, Handelsblatt has learned from people familiar with the company.
Germany’s second largest utility is currently planning and building a demonstration site in Mayo County, Ireland for flying wind turbines. In cooperation with Ampyx Power, a Dutch manufacturer of airborne wind systems, E.ON plans to carry out initial tests this year.
Unlike conventional wind turbines, these are not mounted on a tower, but float in the air like kites, though far higher. The turbine is anchored to the ground with a generator and cable winch, which is attached to a drone or a fabric kite drawing circles in the form of figure eights at a height of up to 450 meters. The flying wind system tugs the rope continuously and through the force of traction, the generator on the ground, producing electricity.
The technology is easier logistically and yields more energy than classic wind turbines. At a height of 400 meters, the wind blows much more strongly and consistently than ground-based systems can access. If the wind speed doubles, that yield can increase eight-fold.
“Airborne energy supports one of our highest goals: reducing the cost of renewable energy,” Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath, head of E.ON’s climate and renewables division told Handelsblatt.
So far E.ON’s biggest competition in the space is Google’s famed corporate research lab, Google X, which purchased a wind turbine maker called Makani Power in 2013. The California-based company created an airborne device called an “energy kite” and researchers seek to develop it to generate mass amounts of electricity.
Franz Hubick is the editor of Handelsblatt’s energy and industry team. Handelsblatt Global editor Barbara Woolsey contributed to this article. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org