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Airborne Wind Energy Systems are accelerating towards commercialisation in Europe

Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) produces electricity using kites or wings which are attached by a tether to a ground station. Airborne Wind Europe, Brussels is the association of the Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) sector. It promotes the development and deployment of AWE systems like kites and drones (so-called unmanned aircraft systems) which generate energy from high-altitude winds. Airborne Wind Europe encourages collaboration and exchange between technology developers, policy makers, public administration and authorities, suppliers, research institutes and universities, utilities, energy consumers and equipment manufacturers as well as investors and financial institutions.

According to Airborne Wind Europe, Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) is accelerating towards commercialisation as leading technology developers attract major global investment through crowdfunding initiatives. Airborne Wind Europe said that campaigns from Kitepower, Kitemill and Enerkite have yielded more than €5million in private investment over the last 12 months alone.

A recent white paper conducted by BVG Associates, on behalf of Airborne Wind Europe, projecting the AWE market to reach around $100bn (€92.39bn) by 2035–40 and several hundreds of billions soon after. Based on the assumption that AWE follows the same trend as the established wind turbine market 40 years ago, BVG further estimates the cumulative global deployment of AWES could reach 5GW by 2035 and at least 177GW by 2050.

Secretary General Kristian Petrick said: “We are thrilled to see two of our leading AWES technology members attracting large levels of international attention. AWE is about to become a game-changing solution unlocking large untapped wind resource at high altitudes enabling more energy to be extracted at lower carbon intensity and eventually at lower cost. We are inviting other potential investors to join this journey right now as we aim to help Europe and other areas of the world accelerate net-zero electricity production and security of supply.”

New and disruptive AWE technology offers a series of unique benefits compared to traditional wind energy systems. Research indicates that harvestable high-altitude wind power is around 4.5 times stronger than ground level resources. AWE also allows for continuous adjustment of harvesting altitude seeking the best available wind resource. This high-capacity factor ensures a more consistent and stable energy supply alleviating intermittency issues experienced by more established renewables, and supporting future hybrid energy models.

In addition, AWE substantially reduces material consumption by up to 90%, for example replacing wind turbine towers with lightweight tethers. This has a hugely positive impact on overall costs, manufacturing, transport and logistics operations, as well as carbon footprints and environmental impact.

Another strong benefit is the versatility of AWE technology. Being scalable from a few kilowatt to several megawatt, the systems are suitable for a broad range of markets including offshore repowering, floating offshore, mountainous and remote locations.

“AWE technology has potential to drive down the levelized costs of wind energy (LCOE), through a decrease in capital costs (CAPEX) due to low material use, combined with increased capacity factor, easier logistics and quick set-up as well as the high-power density per square-kilometre,” added Mr Petrik. “The first commercial AWE systems are already competitive in markets with diesel-based power generation, with experts estimating AWE will reach parity with established onshore wind by the mid-2030s.”

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