A research team at the University of Madrid is intent on harnessing the wind with unconventional means: huge kites. Using the kites that one might otherwise associate with kitesurfing, the team is experimenting with mounting wind-turbines to kites in order to generate energy, which is carried through a cable tether to the ground that anchors the kite. Using such technology could offer a more dependable method for generating consistent wind-produced energy.
Because this kite technology, also known as airborne wind energy systems (AWES), is capable of reaching altitudes of over 500 meters, they aren’t an eyesore and also operate where winds are stronger and more constant. These factors, plus the fact that they have extremely low installation and material costs when compared to traditional wind-power technology, make the kite idea sound less far-out.
Gonzalo Sánchez Arriaga, a researcher at the university’s business school UC3M, said: “The ultimate aim is to produce clean energy. The main advantage of airborne energy systems is that they operate at higher altitudes than conventional aerogenerators where the winds tend to be stronger and less intermittent. Another advantage is they are usually more compact systems and they are transportable." He also commented: “We believe systems like these can be placed into a container and in the event of a catastrophe such as an earthquake or where energy needs to be generated in a specific place, where fuel cannot be supplied for example, these kinds of devices can be used.”
The team has developed a simulator based on data they gathered from two kites they’ve already flown. Analyzing the position and speed of the kite, attack and sideslip angles, air-speed, and tether tensions, the researchers were able to model how aerodynamic forces produced by the kites will behave, in order to optimize energy generation.
In addition to energy generated by the wind turbines on the kites, the researchers are also looking into how the movements of the tether anchored to the ground could generate power as well. Their research was published in Applied Mathematical Modelling.