Science

New Wave Energy wants to put power plants in the sky

New Wave Energy wants to put p...
A model of a high altitude aerial power plant that harvests both solar and wind energy and beams it wirelessly to the ground.(Image: New Wave Energy UK)
A model of a high altitude aerial power plant that harvests both solar and wind energy and beams it wirelessly to the ground.(Image: New Wave Energy UK)
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Each drone in a network can power itself and also deliver 50 kW of usable energy (Image: New Wave Energy UK)
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Each drone in a network can power itself and also deliver 50 kW of usable energy (Image: New Wave Energy UK)
Four rotors and wind turbines are included in the design (Image: New Wave Energy UK)
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Four rotors and wind turbines are included in the design (Image: New Wave Energy UK)
A close up of the model with a flat solar panel for generating solar energy (Image: New Wave Energy UK)
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A close up of the model with a flat solar panel for generating solar energy (Image: New Wave Energy UK)
A model of a high altitude aerial power plant that harvests both solar and wind energy and beams it wirelessly to the ground.(Image: New Wave Energy UK)
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A model of a high altitude aerial power plant that harvests both solar and wind energy and beams it wirelessly to the ground.(Image: New Wave Energy UK)
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Harvesting power from the wind and the sun is nothing new. We've seen flying wind turbines and solar power plants that aim to provide clean renewable energy. UK-based New Wave Energy has a bolder idea in the works. The company plans to build the first high altitude aerial power plant, using networks of unmanned drones that can harvest energy from multiple sources and transmit it wirelessly to receiving stations on the ground.

The patent-pending technology aims to have drone networks hover in the sky harvesting both solar and wind power, while moving about at low speeds to keep track of the sun. The drones will operate at high altitudes where the winds are more stable and there's minimal chance of weather patterns or aircraft interfering with them.

"At 50,000 ft (15,000 m) there is very little air traffic and biodiversity, unless you go over the Himalayas," company director Michael Burdett tells Gizmag. "Implementing a system in these conditions will not obstruct any existing systems."

Each 20 x 20 m (65 x 65 ft) drone will have four rotors, multiple wind turbines and a flat base for generating solar power. It'll be able to power itself with the harvested energy and generate an additional 50 kW that can be transmitted wirelessly to the ground. Rectenna arrays installed inland or on offshore installations would receive the electromagnetic waves and convert them into usable power.

Burdett estimates that an aerial power plant containing thousands of drones could produce around 400 MW of power, enough to power over 205,000 homes annually. Designed to be easy to update, the drone networks can be outfitted with more efficient generators as they become available. A drone power plant capable of delivering so much power, the company says, would be pretty large, around twice the size of an offshore wind farm such as the Robin Rigg farm in the Solway Firth, Scotland.

Though it sounds quite ambitious, there have been a number of advances in drone design and technology that help give an aerial power plant some weight. Solara's UAV can stay airborne for up to 5 years and Quadrotor's UAVs are able to charge devices wirelessly. Getting a power-producing drone network airborne also offers other benefits, such as being able to link small aerial power plants to each other wirelessly to deliver large amounts of energy reliably.

The company states that it will be able to handle energy output within a drone network as efficiently as managing data in an information network. An aerial power plant also makes it easier to provide power to remote locations with long range transmissions, or help out immediately in the event of an emergency or a natural disaster.

"The time for a response in times of natural disaster depends on the drone's current location and flight speed once the final form is specified," Burdett says. "Using smaller drones of 50 to 100 kW will reduce implementation times. It would be feasible to produce a system to operate at lower altitudes if required, one which could be transported with other equipment for relief efforts and implemented instantly."

Aside of the obvious advantage of requiring little or no land space, the drone networks would be invisible to the naked eye making it realistic for them to be installed anywhere. The company aims to make use of the unpopulated airspace over the Atlantic, Indian or Pacific Ocean first. Burdett states that New Wave Energy will be able to deliver energy around the clock to many different parts of the world using solar, wind, thermoelectrics, infrared and visible spectrum rectennas.

It took around two years for New Wave Energy UK to develop the technology. The company plans to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise around £300,000 (US$500,000) and expects to have a working prototype within 6 months of receiving funding.

Source: New Wave Energy UK

32 comments
Bob Ehresman
So... a new low for solar power generation efficiency?
Slowburn
How do they plan to generate more energy from the "wind" passing across the drone than it takes to drive the drone through the air.
Joris van den Heuvel
Ah, another green energy investment scam. Not the first, and it won't be the last. Wireless energy transmission over 15 km is close to impossible, multirotor drones need very regular maintenance, and keeping them up there requires more energy than they can harvest.
Paul van Dinther
Wishful thinking is not going to make it so. Not even with pretty pictures.
New Wave Energy UK Ltd
Thank you for your comments above. I would like to assure you all that this is not a scam and this is a serious project. To answer these questions I would like to state that this project is in its early stages and the specific form of the drones are yet to be determined. The information provided above is from preliminary data only. The final form of the power plants is subject to change pending further research and optimisation. I can also confirm we are already discussing this project with UAV experts who find this project promising and feasible. The energy requirements for a multirotor UAV are subject to the specification for the aircraft and there is more wind and solar energy potential at higher altitudes than on the ground. These facts have already been identified by other aerial generation projects and we are soon to begin our own research into this subject. In regards to wireless power transmission, it is feasible to transmit energy over distances far greater then 15Km. The technology for this has already been developed and proven by multiple projects by other bodies. These projects include Space Energy and the Mitsubishi Solar Bird. These projects all plan to utilise wireless power transmission from space making this a far greater distance than we are proposing. The technology as mentioned has already been proven for feasibility and safety and has been published in papers by these bodies and PG&E have already purchased solar power to be delivered wirelessly using this transmission system to commence from 2016 for ten years. This document is one which is available for viewing on their website and has been since 2009. There currently exists multiple projects for aerial generation including Makani, Ampyx and Sky wind power of these one does plan to use a multi-rotor drone while others use other solutions. If you have any further comments please contact us by E-Mail and we would be happy to discuss this with you.
GCW
A quadrocopter at that altitude is a complete non-starter - the air pressure will be far too low to generate enough thrust to support the weight. It needs the form factor of a U2 to fly that high. Winds can be extremely strong in the stratosphere away from the tropics. Let alone the logistics of getting it there, maintaining it and transmitting the power 15km through clouds....
Kimberly Lazarski
Three things: * Inverse square law. How much power can you really transmit to the ground via RF? * Thanks for further ruining the skies for astronomers. Light pollution is bad enough, but actually eclipsing stars and other deep sky objects with these things? * How do you plan to generate more power than wind than required to remain aloft and hovering in a stationary position? This is surely a scam.
The Skud
I am rather more intrigued by trying to work out how they get the power onshore - QUOTE: "Using unpopulated airspace over the oceans first" That will presumably need a floating platform for the rectenna network - which, of course will need to be very large as the higher your starting point, the wider your at-ground beam spread - so will need cables etc. to land the power. An on-land rectenna would also take up space often needed for housing, so what next?
Michael Crumpton
This sounds like a scam with a bunch of buzzwords to trap the technically illiterate investor. Keeping the drones in one place in the strong winds in the upper atmosphere is going to waste a huge amount of energy. Also steering the drones by changing the angle the drone is flying at and aiming the solar panel will inevitably conflict. Finally, to generate power from a wind turbine needs some resistance to the turbine traveling with the wind. If that resistance is coming from powered flight into the wind, it will require more power than the turbines can generate.
christopher
When their kickstarter campain ends with $100 in pledges, they will then understand.