Harnessing wind energy high up in the sky

Jayan T.V. New Delhi | Updated on January 08, 2018

Wind turbines suspended high in the sky can help harness abundant wind energy up there, a team of researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia has shown.

While the notion of tethered wind turbines generating electricity from high altitude winds may seem futuristic, the KAUST team has mapped the most favourable areas for doing so in West Asia already.

"We are very enthusiastic about taking this work forward," said KAUST atmospheric scientist Udaya Bhaskar Gunturu, one of whose papers was published in the journal Scientific Reports recently. Gunturu, who works on atmospheric processes, hails from Andhra Pradesh and did his masters from Sri Venkateswara University Tirupati.

"Wind turbines on the Earth's surface suffer from the very stubborn problem of intermittent wind supply," said Gunturu in a release put out by the university.

This has led researchers and energy companies worldwide to look upwards and explore the possibility of the strong and reliable winds at high altitudes. Flying a wind turbine on a kite -- with the electricity being delivered to the ground through its tether -- may seem an unlikely scenario, but several companies worldwide are already testing prototype systems.

These developments attracted the attention of the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), which funded the KAUST research to explore the opportunities in West Asia.

Tethered kites could potentially offer the flexibility to vary the altitude of the turbines as wind conditions change. Current technology would most likely allow harvesting wind energy at heights of two to three km, but there is also a lot of wind even higher than that.

The researchers found that the most favourable regions for high-altitude wind energy in West Asia are over parts of Saudi Arabia and Oman.

"Our work may help Saudi Arabian wind-energy technology to leapfrog into the future and fulfill the Kingdom's Vision 2030 plan on the development of renewable energy resources," said KAUST scientist Georgiy Stenchikov, who led the effort.

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Published on October 16, 2017
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