|An airborne solution for off-grid energy|
For TwingTec and a number of like-minded firms, the solution is to do away with the masts, blades and rotors of conventional turbines in favour of aircraft that fly around harvesting energy. These craft – TwingTec’s device is a drone; another firm, Ampyx Power, uses a fixed-wing aeroplane; other companies are developing kites or flying rotors – are tethered to the ground via a cable. As the craft gains altitude, the cable unwinds, driving a generator in the process. When it reaches the end of its tether, the craft is pulled back in like a giant yo-yo and the pumping cycle starts again.
My introduction to the idea of airborne wind energy came at this week’s IDTechEx conferencein Berlin, Germany, where TwingTec, Ampyx and hundreds of other hi-tech firms were showing off their latest ideas and products. The conference programme was highly eclectic, taking in areas such as printed electronics, sensors and 2D materials as well as off-grid energy. As it happens, I came to Luchsinger’s talk straight from a much more conventional lecture on coin-cell batteries for wearable healthcare devices, and I initially found the contrast in tone and ambition a bit of a shock. However, once I’d wrapped my head around the idea that aircraft could generate power, rather than simply using it, I was intrigued enough to stick around for additional talks by Kristian Petrick of Airborne Wind Europe, Richard Ruiterkamp of Ampyx Power and Rogelio Lozano of Bladetips Energy.
All of these companies (and several others besides) seek to exploit the fact that wind speeds a few hundred metres off the ground are significantly higher than they are at the Earth’s surface. That means that airborne wind energy isn’t limited to a few choice sites around coasts and hills, and all four speakers waxed lyrical about the prospect of offshore floating wind farms populated by a slew of tethered craft circling (or figure-8-ing) serenely in the breeze.