Power-generating drones to take wind energy to unprecedented heights

Drones are normally associated with high energy consumption and short battery times, but a Netherlands-based company could change all that with the development of power-generating drones.

Designed to generate energy at altitudes current wind turbines cannot operate at, the drones essentially replace the part of a turbine blade that generates 70% of the power, while removing the need for the rest of the turbine.

The drone remains permanently fixed to the ground via a tether, which is gradually reeled out as the wind drives the drone in a circular motion. This unwinding of the tether generates the power, and when it is fully unreeled, the drone will dive so the tether can be wound up again. As a result, the drone requires no ‘starter power’ to operate.

“This technology exists, we are developing it, and we are aiming to get it out of the demonstration phase, online, in the next few years,” explained Richard Ruiterkamp, founder of Ampyx Power, the company behind the project, at the London-based drone event SkyTech today.

ampyx-power-1

At present the company is working with a small demonstration drone, but over the next few months it will be constructing a version with a 12m wingspan that will be capable of producing 200-250kW of power.

This will be demonstrated from next year, and 2018 Ampyx plans to construct its full-sized version, which will have a 40m wingspan and produce 2mW of power.

There are also plans to improve the tether system; at present it uses 5% of the energy generated to reel the tether back in, but Ruiterkamp believes that this can be reduced to 2%.

Ampyx currently has 40 employees and has already been operating for eight years, but Ruiterkamp says the cost savings with such a drone are so great that the company will have no problem operating until the technology becomes commercially viable.

As it can operate at altitudes far higher than regular turbines, it could enable wind power to be generated in regions previously unsuited to the technology, making its potential market incredibly significant.

Images courtesy of Ampyx Power

Images courtesy of Ampyx Power

Wind power is fast becoming a major provider of the world’s energy needs, but although the potential energy is higher as altitudes increase, the cost of producing suitable turbines becomes increasingly unviable. As Ampyx’s system involves far smaller hardware, its construction and deployment costs are much lower, making it an appealing alternative.

There is also the matter of appearance. While some find the look of wind turbines very attractive, many people consider them a blight on the landscape. Ampyx’s drones have a far smaller visual effect on the landscape, and so may be considered a welcome replacement.

As they are permanently tethered, the drones also don’t attract the same type of safety concerns associated with regular UAVs.

“The authorities are quite comfortable with this type of drone technology,” said Ruiterkamp. “The safety levels are on par with conventional aircraft.”

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