The Future of Wind Energy May Involve These Really, Really Big Kites: Video

Researchers are disrupting sustainable energy with a toy often favored by kids at the beach.

As the specter of environmental apocalypse inches closer, the species has become increasingly anxious about capitalizing on opportunities to increase personal sustainability. There’s the organic-waste-fueled electrical conductor (yes, organic waste is…what you think it is) developed by a Zimbabwean teen. There are the scientists trying to harness the power of our own breath, by turning CO2 into fuel. And in Spain, a team of bioengineering and aeronautical researchers are seeking to disrupt the world of sustainable energy with a toy most often favored by kids at the beach.

Researchers at Madrid’s UC3M recently announced they have developed a new way of harnessing wind energy: really, really big kites. Airborne Wind Energy Systems (AWES) harvest wind energy through high-flying kites and drones, which they say offers an attractive combination of low installation and material costs and “lower visual impact” than traditional wind turbines. They’re also pretty.

Attractive, too, is a kite’s (and a drone’s) ability to reach higher altitudes, where wind is both stronger and more consistent. Kites use the tension force of their tether to move a grounded electrical generator; drones have turbines situated onboard, and their energy is translated through a conducive tether.

Airborne Wind Energy Systems

Another key selling point of the energy kites and drones are that they’re easily transportable, making sustainable energy a possibility in remote or difficult to reach areas. And if you’re curious whether an AWES set up would work in your own space, don’t worry: In a report published yesterday in the Applied Mathematical Modelling journal, the UC3M team introduced their AWES flight simulator.

“The simulator can be used to study the behavior of AWES, optimize their design and find the trajectories maximizing the generation of energy”, said Ricardo Borobia Moreno, studying a PhD in the department of Bioengineering and Aerospace Engineering at UC3M.

The software is now free and available for download for interested parties, furthering the every-man nature of AWES. It tests tether tension and kite height, among other characteristics. And this technology seems to be hitting the market just in time: According to a report from The Global Wind Energy Council, wind power capacity in North, Central and South American jumped 12 percent over the next year, with the U.S. and Brazil as two of the biggest contributors.

The United States in particular has the potential to be a leader in wind (what a weird sentence, huh?), with the recent announcement that one of the world’s largest hybrid wind and solar power plants is set to be built in Lima, Ohio.