In 2007 at Tampere University of Technology a group (Risto Silvennoinen, Ivan Argatov, Pauli Rautakorpi) was founded to research and develop wind energy technologies able to utilize the full extent of the troposphere.
The wind turbine technology currently in use is restricted to utilizing only the lower levels of the atmosphere, in the range of 0 m – 300 m. In contrast, research in HAWE (High Altitude Wind Energy), also known as AWE (Airborne Wind Energy), aims to develop technologies that can utilize winds in the higher parts of the troposphere.
In recent years interest in harnessing the higher winds to energy production has increased world wide. Universities and research organizations have started to research and develop devices able to function in the higher altitudes. The first international conference in the HAWE field was held at Stanford University in September 2010, and the second in Leuven, Belgium, in May 2011. As a result interest among investors and financiers, both public and private, has also gone up. Among the funders are, for example, EU and Google.
In 2011 researchers Tommi Berg and Ilpo Suominen from Tampere University of Technology, founded Alula Energy Oy, a startup company aiming to develop and utilize HAWE-technology.
Unlimited Source of Energy
At higher altitudes, around 300 m – 10 000 m, winds are almost constant. As a result of technological innovations, in the future it will be possible to harness the energy reserves from these higher winds and use it for energy production.
A wind energy plant based on kite- or tethered wing-technology offers substantial benefits compared to the traditional wind turbines, that are dependent on wind conditions close the surface and as such can produce energy only portion of the time. In contrast a wind energy plant that utilizes the higher parts of the troposphere can be situated more freely, for its output is not tied to a geographical location. Because of the continuity of the wind at higher altitudes, energy can be captured more efficiently and in higher quantities. Long-term, when comparing wind turbines to HAWE-devices, the difference in the amount of energy captured is substantial.
The operational principle of a kite based power plant is similar to kite surfing. A plant such as this is significantly more economical in its construction costs compared to a traditional wind turbine. The cost savings come primarily from not having to build an expensive stationary tower. Additionally as a result of this it is also possible, and economical, to situate the plant off shore.
This combined with the continuity and higher speed of the wind at higher altitudes of the troposphere make kite energy technology a lucrative research and investment target. Same can be said for plants based on tethered wing-technology.
Wind Power is a Rising Industry
Wind energy is quickly gaining in popularity and significance as an alternative energy source. The popularity of wind energy is currently high both among the consumers as well as investors. In line with environmental goals set by EU, Finland needs to increase its wind energy capacity by 2500 megawatts from the current 197 megawatts, by year 2020.