The new technology may come in different forms, from airplanes to helium ballon-rings, but many German researchers are looking at kites as a way to increase the country’s renewable energy production.
Researchers have long known that at 300-500 meters (984-1640 ft) above the earth’s surface, energy harvested from wind could double. At that height, the wind is not just faster. It is also more consistent since none of it dissipates from hitting barriers such as mountains like down below.
However, the technology to take advantage of this potential is only now becoming a possibility.
Many scientists are still skeptical; US company Makani built a high-altitude wind power (HAWP) device that generates 600 kW of energy, but even that isn’t enough to make the technology financially viable. Indeed, the goal that each HAWP device will generate the necessary 1-2 megawatts per day might just be impossible, according to the researchers. Google bought the company recently, so the idea at least has a lot of potential.
There are also some other benefits to the controversial wind power technology that have advocates excited. They bring up how the devices will need only a tenth of the materials needed to build a standard wind turbine, that the installation costs are low, and that they will be easy to transport anywhere in the world.
70 German companies are involved in the search for the perfect HAWP. One company that is working on HAWPs, Altaeros, has even discussed making a helium-balloon ring that has a wind turbine in the center, so researchers are really looking into all the options.
Germany is currently working on transitioning away from fossils fuels: they now get 8% of their electricity from wind power, with 700 offshore turbines 25,000 on land.
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