Sustainable power supply – Airborne wind energy

SkySailsPower Offshore 2 - Sourtesy of the SkySails Group,

Airborne wind energy systems can generate more electricity than conventional wind power plants with lower environmental impact.

Before conventional wind turbines generate green electricity, they first release a lot of CO2. Cement and steel make up by far the largest portion of a wind power plant. Up to an incredible 80 tons of steel are used per wind turbine. Carbon fiber is omnipresent wherever maximum load-bearing capacity with low weight is required, and this also applies for the rotor blades. But from an ecological point of view, the main problems with carbon are the high energy consumption during production, the unresolved disposal issues, and the fact that recycling is only slowly getting underway. The higher, the stronger and more constant the air movement. That’s why new wind turbines are reaching heights of 200 meters. But height means an even greater impact on the landscape. Is there an alternative?

For several years, companies, start-ups and universities around the world have been working on the development of airborne wind systems. Now the first companies have started to market their systems. Airborne wind energy is a wind energy technology based on flying blades or wings attached to the ground with a cable. Less material is needed, and the CO2-footprint is much smaller. There is no question, that if Germany wants to power itself 100 percent with renewable energy, more wind power will be needed. They can be used to exploit heights with higher wind speeds and potentially generate more power for electricity production. This especially true in southern Germany, where wind conditions tend to be too weak for conventional wind turbines. In addition, flying wind turbines are almost invisible. It can be assumed that resistance among the population would be significantly lower.

A major problem, however, will be the approval of such airborne wind systems, as there are as yet no regulations under which the authorities could give the green light. Airborne wind energy systems are currently developed mainly in Europe, thus making a strong case for the EU’s industrial leadership. However, to successfully enter the electricity market, airborne wind energy, like other renewable energy technologies in the past, will require specific policy support.

Doris Höflich
Market Intelligence Senior Expert