Energy

Tethered high-altitude drones designed to replace wind turbines

Tethered high-altitude drones ...
Prototype Ampyx Power drone in flight
Prototype Ampyx Power drone in flight
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Prototype Ampyx Power drone in flight
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Prototype Ampyx Power drone in flight

Wind turbine towers have become a familiar sight in many parts of the world, but if Ampyx Power has its way, they could be replaced with fleets of tethered drones. Supported by ESA’s Navigation Innovation and Support Programme (NAVISP), the Dutch company is working on kite-like autonomous aircraft that harness the energy of high-altitude winds to run generators on the ground.

Wind turbine towers are one of the main pillars of the renewable energy movement, but as generators of electricity on an industrial scale, they leave much to be desired. One of their drawbacks is that, being set on the ground, they are harvesting from a narrow band of low-velocity winds. This means they tend to be very large and relatively inefficient.

In contrast, Ampyx Power wants to go after the high-wind altitudes above 200 m (660 ft) by means of large, tethered drones that would be connected to the ground by special lines linked to a winch. Similar to the Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) and the TwingKite we've covered previously, the idea is that the drone would sail on the powerful high-altitude winds like a kite, executing various flight patterns to harvest energy. As it did so, the tether would pull on the winch, which would turn a generator.

According to the company, such a system could produce more energy than a conventional wind turbine, but would only need 10 percent of the material to build. In addition, such drones could be phased into the existing wind-power system by replacing older towers as they go offline.

However, ESA says that for such a technology to be practical, the drones will need a precision takeoff and landing system so they can return to earth when needed for inspection and maintenance. These landing areas would be very small platforms – even smaller than the wingspan of the aircraft – that could be set in rugged terrain or offshore.

To that end, the company, with the help of ESA's NAVISPand British tracking specialist Omnisense, is developing a navigational system of very high accuracy that can operate during a satnav outage. Using ultra-wideband positioning techniques, this locally-sited positioning system has a range of a kilometer and updates every hundredth of a second to provide a fix that is accurate to within 10 cm (4 in).

The video below explains the Ampyx Power system.

Power drone

Source: ESA

14 comments
vince
And if the wind dies down they all crash to Earth and kill unsuspecting humans, animals, property, etc. Idiocy because the wind does stall out quite frequently.
Peter Cary
Seems like more clutter in the sky. The inefficiency of the system seems to demand too high of a maintenance/operating crew. Wind turbines seem like a more efficient system of harvesting energy.
DaveWesely
Just to have an idea as to what these guys are up against, check out this web archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20141027012726/http://barnardonwind.com/2013/10/30/googles-makani-airborne-wind-generator-flies-a-bit-lower-when-you-look-at-it-closely/
Joe123
What an absolutely horrible idea. This is an accident waiting to happen. Can you imagine what this will do to civil and commercial aviation. We are finding out day after day how unstable and unprofitable wind energy is, now we want to add this to the mix? Come on!
Cryptonoetic
Rube Goldberg would be proud.
jzj
Unfortunately, Makani (https://makanipower.com/), even with Google's support, seems to have paid proof that this concept doesn't work. And in the meantime, turbine generation has grown cheaper and cheaper. Until someone can figure out how to use the remarkable but variably-located power of jetstreams, these sorts of concepts are unlikely to be economical.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Once some experience is gained with these they could move up into the jet stream, where a lot more power is available. They need designated areas to avoid air traffic.
pr014m3r
@vince: they can land, glide, have motors/props and will not be used in dense areas. I can not imagine the engineers designed them to crash after a few hours. But they might not be wind-experts as you. @peter: if they take 1/10th of the material, they may be down to 1/10th efficency. ... omg ...
Username
3:22 minutes of absolutely no information on how the system actually works.
Kpar
Since when is 200 meters considered "high altitude"?