Analysis & Insight

An Introduction to Airborne Wind

Published 21 February 2019

Airborne offshore wind ORE Catapult Stephanie Mann Energy kite developer Makani’s prototype rests on its perch at a test site in Parker Ranch, Hawai’i. Image: Makani

Ask someone to picture a wind turbine, and most will describe the type with a tall tower and three blades spinning on a horizontal axis.

This is the image that comes to mind for most when we think about wind power – but it is also possible to capture wind energy by flying a tethered device across the wind to produce lift and drag. These devices are referred to as airborne wind energy generators.

Here, electricity is generated by adding lift or drag to the device and passing energy down the tether electrically or mechanically. The lightweight nature of airborne wind allows for a step change in the levelised cost of energy (LCoE), especially when looking offshore. These reductions have been quantified, and the data shows that airborne wind has a potential LCoE of £30/MWh by 2030.

This paper, by Stephanie Mann, provides a high-level introduction to how airborne wind works, the two main technology types, trends in the industry, and explores how airborne wind offers cost advantages when compared to traditional bottom-fixed offshore wind farms.