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New innovations in flying kites are disrupting wind energy research

Akshay Krishnan, ICTI Research Associate

Kite flying is one of the top childhood memories for everyone. Kids love the challenge and the thrill of getting the kite up and into the air. “We have seen as children that when flying a kite there is a lot of pulling power from the wind. This pulling power and lifting forces of the wind can be used to generate a cheap and abundant supply of electricity”, says Sobin Sabu Thankachan, Research Associate at International Centre for Technological Innovations, researching on Airborne Wind Energy Systems (AWES).

In a lab prototype developed by Sobin and his team, the kite is connected to a tether which is wound over a shaft at the ground station. When the kite pulls upwards the tether unwinds from the shaft resulting in its rotation. This rotation is converted to electricity using a generator. However, the device made by Sobin needs to be upgraded to a fully automatic system to make it more user-friendly. The Kerala Startup Mission of Government of Kerala has awarded him a grant funding for further research and development.

Sobin developed an interest in renewable energy during his pre-final year at engineering college. “I found renewable energy as a fascinating field when I realized that it is the best way I could serve humanity and the Mother Earth using the skills and passion I have as a mechanical engineer” says Sobin. “But the costs of existing technologies are very high, so new innovative technologies that provide cheap clean energy must be developed and I believe it is the future”.

There are three main advantages to the AWES over conventional wind turbines: it reaches higher altitudes, uses less material, and is more aerodynamically effective. The winds are stronger higher up, producing more energy. The ground station of AWES also takes up considerably less ground space than a conventional wind turbine. AWES eliminate 90% of the materials of conventional wind turbines, which makes them both cheaper to produce and easier to install in more locations. Experts predict that each individual energy kite will generate 50% more energy. An Italian company KiteGen Research made a similar prototype using a kite of area 50m^2 and produced 3MW electricity. Moreover, they claim that more electricity can be produced using larger kites. Many universities and companies around the globe are investing in the research and development of this technology namely TU Delft University Netherlands, Google Makani Power, NASA Langley Research centre, Altaeros Energies and so on.