When I was a child, flying a kite was my favorite hobby. I can’t really explain the thrill I used to have while flying kites. I honestly used to fly kites even in my dreams. One thing for sure I never thought kites have a special power. The power to produce energy. By conquering the winds, people like Saul Griffith are working on using kites to produce energy.
Sault Griffith works under a company called makani power which according to the companies website is “seeking to harness high-altitude wind energy to produce energy at an unsubsidized real cost significantly below that of the least expensive coal-fired power plants”.
So why kites?
There are two basic ideas behind using kites (both of these ideas were presented by Saul at Ted conference). First, the higher the altitude the stronger the wind. Second more space more power. Wind turbines can be made only so much taller and bigger. Therefore, to use higher altitude winds and more space in the sky we have to use a flaying object – in this case a kite.
According to Saul, from wind we can generate 3600 TW power which is more then enough for all our needs. Here is a breakdown (from Saul Griffith’s presentation at TED) of amount of power that can potentially be generated using these kites:
To get a better understanding of the amount and scale of electricity we can produce with these kites, lets look at the following few slides that Saul presented at Ted:
Are there other companies working on kite powered systems?
Yes! In fact, there is a company called skysails that already provides a kite based propulsion system for ships. As it says in the companies website, “It is a simple fact: Wind is cheaper than oil and the most economic and environmentally sound source of energy on the high seas.”. So why not use it?
The company is providing kite propulsion system for vessels with load of 8 to 32 ton, and the future they are going haul a ship weighing 130 ton -amazing.
In addition to skysails there is an Italian company called KiteGen that is similar to makkani powers in that they produce kites to generate power.
In 2007 the company tested their kites at 800m (2 625 feet). That is very significant height as we saw in the chart before, 1200TW power can be produced in heights above1000m, and of course 800m is really close to 1000m, so maybe in the next experiment they can hit that mark.
This not a silver bullet
I admit. I would love to see everybody flying kites to produce power, but we have to look at this objectively. This is not a silver bullet that will solve all our energy problems. There are some really interesting devices such as Magenn Power Air Rotor System (M.A.R.S).
According to the companies website following are some of its advantages:
- “Magenn Air Rotor System is less expensive per unit of actual electrical energy output than competing wind power systems.
- Magenn Power Air Rotor System will deliver time-averaged output much closer to its rated capacity than the capacity factor typical with conventional designs. Magenn efficiency will be 40 to 50 percent. This is hugely important, since doubling capacity factor cuts the cost of each delivered watt by half.
- Wind farms can be placed closer to demand centers, reducing transmission line costs and transmission line loses.
- Conventional wind generators are only operable in wind speeds between 3 meters/sec and 28 meters/sec. Magenn Air Rotors are operable between 1 meter/sec and in excess of 28 meters/sec.
- Magenn Air Rotors can be raised to higher altitudes, thus capitalizing on higher winds aloft. Altitudes from 400-ft to 1,000-ft above ground level are possible, without having to build an expensive tower, or use a crane to perform maintenance.
- Magenn Air Rotors are mobile and can be easily moved to different locations to correspond to changing wind patterns. Mobility is also useful in emergency deployment and disaster relief situations.”Source
From a practical stand point I would rather use a device that uses less space. A kite, of course, needs a large space to fly. However, M.A.R.S doesn’t and it can be positioned in higher altitudes.
As I mentioned before, generating energy by kite is not going to solve all our problems. Nevertheless, it provides yet another tool in our tool belt to combat energy and environmental problems. For me this technology indicated that are reaching new heights in attaining clean energy. Truly, if we innovate with this pace, the future for clean energy is bright, and let’s say cool.
We don’t know exactly how Sauls kite works, but for those who interested you can follow WPI Kite Power Team. They have a paper written on power generation system. They have produced a one killow watt system. I am pretty sure Saul’s system would be significantly different, but this will give us an idea how kites can generate power.
Also check out their animations:
Watch the TED presenation by Sault Griffith:
Also, check this excellent presentation by Saul Griffith to get a better understanding of how much power we use: