Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Wind Power High in the Sky

The Wind Group in our Electric Earth Index has been updated with new additions in both high altitude and vertical technologies.  All of the new names are private companies and offer little near-term investment opportunity.  However, it seems prudent to for investors to get acquainted with the most recent developments in various wind power technologies.  For most of us, the conventional rotor turbine on a tower is our only experience with wind power.  There are other approaches, some of which offer some credible solutions to the problems associated with conventional rotor turbines:  high bird death, health problems from turbine noise, and limitations on wind farm locations.

Makani Power, which was acquired by Google (GOOG:  Nasdaq) in 2013, was already on our list as a developer of high altitude wind power using kites.  Makani claims its kite application will cost less than the conventional rotor turbine on a tower.  More importantly, they propose to allow their ‘tethered airfoils’ to fly in higher altitudes to access more consistent, stronger winds.  The kites with turbines attached will fly in vertical loops.  When wind speeds slow, the kite is returned to the ground to wait for improved wind conditions.

Now we have included several other kite developers in the Wind Group.  Germany’s EnerKite GmbH demonstrated their high altitude kite in Berlin in early 2013.  The kite resembles a parachute and travels a lot in figure eights.  The ground station generates electrical power from the torque of the kite tethers attached to the kite.   The demonstration model has a rated power of 30 kilowatts, but planned commercial version is rated at 100 kilowatts for use in at isolated locations.  Another larger commercial model rated at 500 kilowatts is of sufficient scale for utility use or for larger remote locations such as mining camps.  The EnerKite corporate website indicates the company plans to introduce the commercial versions in 2017 and 2018.  Unfortunately, the last public announcement made by EnerKite was at the time of the Berlin event.

Much can be understood about SkySails GmbH from its name.  Its products principally used by ocean going vessels for propulsion.  The kite serves as a towing mechanism.  However, the company is applying its kite know-how to high altitude power generation as well.  Besides proven kite technology and market experience, SkySails has financial backing from Royal DSM, NV.  There are at many as twenty private developers of high altitude wind power technology.  We have only included a few on our list.  Of these SkySails is seems to be the most sophisticated from the perspective of business organization and ability to execute on strategic plans.

There is a third Germany-based kite developer  -  HTS GmbH in our Wind Group  The company has patented a technology they call the NTS Principle.  HTS kites fly in circles at high altitudes while energy is transmitted via the two lines to the ground station.  The company claims to have produced power with its kite and that 8 of its kites could be the equivalent of 20 conventional one megawatt rotor turbines mounted on towers.

In the U.S. Sky Windpower is taking an entirely different approach to high altitude wind energy generation.  It is called a ‘Flying Electric Generator’ or FEG for short  The company advises that it could cost as much as a conventional tower mounted rotor and turbine system, but could generation substantially more kilowatt hours of electricity since it could be deployed to higher altitudes where higher speed winds are available more consistently.  Sky Windpower was among Time Magazines 50 Best Inventions of 2008, but has made little in news since.  The company does provide video of one of its demonstration craft, proving at least that the FEG can go airborne.

LTA Windpower is putting a blimp aloft for its attempt at high altitude wind power generation.  They call it the PowerShip.  Management of LTA Windpower makes the argument that technology development risk can be reduced through the use of proven subsystems such as the airship, wings and propeller turbines.  Instead of the gondola that we usually see on blimps, there are two generator nacelles.  On the ground there will be a tethering post embedded in concrete.  It is anticipated that the blimp will operate unattended.

Of course, ‘high in the sky’ is not the only wind power approach. The next post will cover developers of vertical wind power generation technology.


Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein.


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