Kites could harness power from the wind

Soon high-flying kites could be harnessing the potential power from the wind as a cheaper alternative to wind turbines.

Image: Swiss Kite Power website

Because of their enormous size, technical engineering and expensive mechanical parts, wind turbines aren't cheap to produce or erect. Maintenance also proves to be extremely difficult and dangerous as work needs to be done high up inside the motors and blades. Though they are a step towards a greener future and away from toxic fossil fuels, they aren’t without problems and safety concerns.

A Swedish team of researchers named SwissKitePower is reimaginging how to generate green electricity by testing power and wind-harnessing capabilities of kites. To do so, the team sends kites hundreds of metres into the sky – much higher than turbines could be built – to altitudes where winds are stronger and more stable, which translates to more consistent energy generation.

According to the their website, the kites create energy by transforming the aerodynamic lift force of the wing into tension in the tether and the eventually rotational motion of a winch or drum that is linked to a generator. The tether pulls on the drum, which starts to rotate as the kite rises and the generator produces electrical power. Once the kite reaches a threshold altitude the retraction phase starts. The kite is reeled in and the process starts again.

Researchers at SwissKitePower claim that using kites is much safer and more cost effective than wind turbines as the production of all parts amounts only to a small fraction of what a turbine would cost. All the vulnerable components, such as the electronics and motors, are placed on the ground. This allows having the lightest possible wing in the air while maximizing safety with easy access to electrical and mechanical systems during operation and maintenance.

Image: Swiss Kite Power website