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Is it a kite? A paraglider? No, it's a turbine tugger
German company hopes for new breakthrough in wind power technology.
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
Here at Callaway Climate Insights, we are always on the lookout for promising developments in the business of fighting climate change. Electric airplanes. Tidal energy. Solar panels made from fruit and vegetable waste.
So, it was with some interest that we saw a report from the Yale School of the Environment headed by a picture of what looked like a huge paraglider flying over some fields in Germany. Welcome to the world of airborne wind energy.
The company in question is Hamburg-based SkySails Power, which started in 2001 with the idea of using kites to tap into high-altitude winds to tow cargo ships and thus reduce their highly polluting fossil fuel consumption.
The SkySails system relies on a parachute-like wing measuring about 1,600 square feet that rides the wind and tugs a turbine on the ground. Software flies the kite in a figure-eight pattern to get the strongest pull possible to produce energy.
In terms of power production, the kites are a much more adaptable source of power than, say, solar panels and conventional wind turbines. They can be relatively easily moved as well as transported to remote locations. They also take up less land space and, with cable as long as half a mile, they can harvest much stronger winds than those blowing through fixed turbines. Another adaptation being explored is attaching them to barges, thus avoiding much of the infrastructure associated with fixed or floating offshore platforms.
The technology has even been noticed by the U.S. Department of Energy, which late last year issued a report that said the concept has promise but needed more proof of viability.
Will they take off? It’s worth watching.