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Shell to harness the power of 'energy kites'

15/02/2019
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Shell has partnered with new energy start-up Makani to pursue the development of ‘energy kites’, a novel new approach to harvesting energy from the skies…
Makani's energy kites will enable the world to harness much more wind power than at present.
(Makani’s energy kites will enable the world to harness much more wind power than at present. Image via Makani).

Resembling incredible, over-sized model aeroplanes, the energy kites are described as ‘a wing tethered to a ground station to efficiently harness energy from the wind’. As they fly autonomously in loops their wing-mounted rotors spin, thus generating electricity which is then sent back to the ground via the tether.

But why adopt such an unusual technique to wind power generation?
Makani's energy kites utilise cutting edge aerospace technologies to ensure that power generation is as efficient as possible
(Makani’s energy kites utilise cutting edge aerospace technologies to ensure that power generation is as efficient as possible. Image via Makani).

It’s straightforward really. There aren’t enough viable locations for traditional land and offshore based turbines. When you consider that wind energy has the potential to power the world 100 times over, it’s clear that alternative methods for harvesting energy from the skies could prove incredibly lucrative. In short, harnessing energy from the wind in new places means more people around the world will have access to clean, affordable wind power.

Makani’s current prototype is able to capture and transfer up to 600 kilowatts of electrical power- enough to power about 300 homes. 
Power generated by the energy kites is transferred to the ground via a tether.
(Power generated by the energy kites is transferred to the ground via a tether. Image via Makani).

Makani has sent over a decade developing their energy kites on land. This new partnership with Shell will enable them to begin exploring the use of energy kites in offshore environments where wind conditions are much stronger.

To date, offshore wind installations, particularly in deepwater environments, have proven to be extremely capital-intensive. Makani believe that their energy kites offer a more affordable alternative. The reason being that unlike most floating offshore wind technologies deployed at water depths greater than 50 metres, Makani’s kites don’t need to be supported by large platforms. Instead, Makani’s kites can be tethered to a small spar buoy which is moored with a synthetic line and gravity anchor. This is made possible due to the energy kites being 90% lighter than traditional turbines of a similar power rating. Instead of tons of steel, Makani’s energy kites integrate advances in aerospace engineering, materials science, and autonomous controls to create a lightweight design that is easy to transport and install.
Makani's partnership with Shell will pilot the use of energy kites in offshore environments.
(Makani’s partnership with Shell will pilot the use of energy kites in offshore environments. Image via Makani).

In order to adapt their energy kites to offshore environments, Makani will be drawing on Shell’s extensive engineering and operational expertise with floating structures. It’s anticipated that Makani will kick-off testing of a pilot floating offshore system in Norway later this year. Makani has also stated that it will continue onshore testing from its base in Hawaii.

By extending the reach of wind power to new places such as deepwater offshore, mountainous areas, islands and onshore sites with high wind shear, Makani has the potential to significantly increase the percentage of electricity that comes from wind- helping us all to transition to a lower-carbon economy.

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Shell to harness the power of 'energy kites' - Time to read 3 min
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