Netherlands-based Ampyx Power has developed a novel approach to generating wind energy, and thanks to a new partnership with Germany’s EON utility company, Ampyx will get to demonstrate its technology to the world.
A handful of companies have researched ways to generate wind energy using airborne systems such as kites, but Ampyx, which was founded in 2008, has focused on developing fixed wing tethered aircraft designs, which Ampyx refers to as a second generation wind turbine, that can be deployed in utility-scale wind parks.
Ampyx Power will now build an offshore airborne wind energy (AWE) facility for EON at a test site in Mayo County, Ireland. The site will demo the continuous operation of Ampyx Power’s 2 MW system. EON, considered a leading utility in renewable energy in Germany, said Ampyx’s technology has a promising future.
“EON has been looking into airborne wind technologies for five years and we believe it has true game changing potential,” said Frank Meyer, SVP of B2C solution management and innovation at EON. The company has invested more than €10 billion in renewables and currently operates nearly 5.4 gigawatts of renewable capacity.
“It supports one of our overall targets to drive down cost of renewable energy, and also allowing production of renewable energy at locations where it is currently not economical and technical feasible today,” Meyer said. “While in principle we are technology agnostic, we consider this cooperation with Ampyx Power a major step in our efforts to take a leading role in furthering the promising emerging Airborne Wind Energy sector.”
Here’s how it works: the autonomous aircraft is tethered to a generator on the ground. Once airborne, the aircraft reaches altitudes between 200m up to 450m. The aircraft flies in a cross-wind figure 8 pattern, and in doing so it pulls the tether, which in turn drives the generator. The tether is ~750m long, so when the aircraft reaches the end of its rope, it descends back to a lower altitude while the tether is reeled in. Then, the aircraft heads back up, pulling the tether along with it. The ascent and descent of the aircraft makes the figure eight pattern. The aircraft takes off, lands and flies completely autonomously, with the use of sensors that feed it information about the surround environment.
The AWE system can be deployed in offshore and on-land wind parks. It can also be used in deep sea offshore scenarios, where the aircraft can take off and land on floating platforms.
The aircraft design for wind energy generation “significantly reduces the material use and cost of wind energy,” the company claims, because it doesn’t require as much concrete or steel. And the company seems confident its airborne solutions can deliver wind energy at prices that are more competitive with fossil fuels. For one, the drones are able to fly at much higher altitudes that turbines can reach, which gives them access to faster wind speeds, which means more energy output.
The drones are also less visible than traditional turbines — a perk in its own right as some opposition to wind turbines is the perception that wind turbine parks mar otherwise pristine scenery. The drones also have less environmental impact than turbines, because less construction is needed. And those cost savings are particularly important in deep sea offshore environments, where construction costs are cost-prohibitive. EON estimates the technology, if successful, could cut offshore wind energy costs by as much as 50%.