High Altitude Wind Power: A Race to the Top
Compared to conventional wind farms, high altitude wind technology can harness kinetic energy with 5x greater capacity factors, allowing for highly scalable electricity production (thanks to the cube of velocity at high altitudes). While first imagined as a source of useful energy back in the 19th century, airborne wind technologies such as floating wind turbines, aerostats, sailplanes and kites are still imagined as nascent discoveries. Yet we are seeing high altitude wind manufacturers achieving more traction in the US as well as Europe and especially in Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. Moreover, corporate and strategic players across the globe seem keen to invest in and be engaged with high altitude wind companies.
In Germany, for example, Skysails received €15 million from DSM Venturing in 2010 and has since implemented both a towing kite technology for the shipping industry and an offshore-based kite power generation system. Additionally, Kite wind innovator Nature Technology Systems (NTS) received $1 million in 2012 from the multinational technology corporate, 3M, and the German bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau(KfW).
Dutch producer of autonomously controlled glider planes tethered to ground-based generators, Ampyx Power, has received capital from several international institutions and the large corporate KLM Royal Dutch Airlines through two of Rabo Private Equity’s main funds. The company subsequently gained crowd-funding from the Dutch platform Oneplanetcrowd, to continue developing and commercializing its proprietary PowerPlanes.
In Italy, KITenergy, is collaborating with CeSi, an Italian designer of innovative machines and National Instruments, the global producer of test equipment and instrumentation software, to test a first kite-based prototype built in 2012. Additionally, Italian kite maker, KiteGen was awarded a contract to power the world’s largest Carbon dioxide Capture & Utilization (CCU) plant in Jubail Industrial City, Saudi Arabia, after receiving an investment round in April 2013 from Sabic Ventures, the venture unit of SABIC, the Saudi based chemicals and materials company.
The best example in the US is represented by Makani Power, whose acquisition by Google in May 2013 came after several financing rounds worth $15 million over the past few years. The Makani airborne technology, a tethered wing outfitted with turbines, is now being integrated into the development lab known as Google X. Moreover, US based Altaeros Energies, the winner of the $125,000 ConocoPhillips Energy Prize in 2011, foresees that it will begin to install its airborne wind turbines in remote locations including military and deep water off-shore wind sites.
These recent market developments underline an existing trend in the airborne wind energy sector – seen as a concrete investment opportunity to fulfil the world’s need for clean and safe energy production. We will be watching this space, as a number of innovators make airborne wind products a cost-effective and scalable reality.