If you ever tried to fly a kite, then you have felt the power of the wind. Wind is Sun’s heat transformed into kinetic energy through the greatest solar collector currently available, the Earth’s atmosphere. Wind energy is not uniformely distributed, but mainly found in the higher layers of the troposphere at the mid latitudes of both North and South hemispheres.
Today’s wind power turbines cannot reach higher and touch altitude wind. The world’s largest wind turbine is now the Enercon E-126. The tower is 138 meters high (453 feet), and the rotor diameter is 126 meters (413 feet) and is will most likely produce 7+ megawatts (6 megawatt was produced by the formerly the world’s largest wind turbine, E-112).
Two Italians, Massimo Ippolito, a kite surfer and sailing enthusiast and Mario Milanese, a professor at the Polytechnic of Turin, thought that wind in higher altitudes is a force in nature that cannot be wasted. In order to reach high altitude wind and exploit its virtually endless kinetic energy, they developed the Kite Gen project, a radical, innovative and practical technology that can alter the market of renewable energy.
Kite Gen technology has nothing to do with heavy and static plants like current wind turbines; instead the new type of electric generation – Carousel type – plant is based on light, dynamic and intelligent machines. The essence of the Kite Gen concept is simple and as Milanese and Hippolito say, it works like a “yo-yo”, a kite rises and falls in the sky.
Each Kite Gen power plant is composed by several KSUs (Kite Steering Unit) that allow to automatically piloting a power kite or an array of power kites over a predefined flight path. At the very core of the project stays the software that autonomously pilots the power kites, so that their flight patterns can be controlled, synchronized and normally directed to maximise the production of energy.
These large controllable “kites” are deployed upward just like a normal kite, insured by two light wires, 3 mm in diameter and 800 meters long. In this altitude, wind speeds are much greater than near the ground. Unrolled, each kite increases its speed differential compared to the wind and, therefore, the power generated electricity. After reaching their maximum height, the kites are flown back down to ground level as motorized spools gather the tether. The retrieval phase requires only a small fraction of the power that is generated during the flight.
The advantages of Kite Gen’s technology are that are suitable for any territory, at costs lower than fossil fuel generation plants, in direct competition with today’s conventional production (coal, oil or nuclear), in the GigaWatt class. The first full-scale system is a 3MW generator is being installed near Asti, Italy, and is expected to begin operating soon.