RWE says it is establishing its first test center to investigate the potential of airborne wind energy systems (AWES). Planning permission to build the new facility in County Mayo, Ireland, has been granted, and construction of the site infrastructure is expected to begin later this year.
RWE is delivering the test site in partnership with Ampyx Power, a Dutch company that is developing the technology. RWE’s test site will first undertake testing, verification and demonstration of a 150 kW demonstrator system, followed later by a larger commercial-scale 1 MW system. RWE will also test systems from other AWES developers during the eight year operational lifetime of its test center.
AWES harness the strong and steady winds at altitudes greater than several hundred meters and offer reduced infrastructure costs. The system being tested by RWE consists of a ground-based winch generator, a launch and land platform, and a small, aircraft-shaped device.
The device, which has a 40-foot wingspan, is connected to the generator by an ultra-strong tether. It draws the tether from the winch and produces electricity by acting against the resistance of the built-in generator. Once the tether is fully extended, the device glides back towards the winch as the tether is reeled back in. Retrieving the tether requires just a fraction of the electricity generated, resulting in net power production. This cycle is performed repeatedly, producing clean, low-cost electricity.
“After 12 years of hard work and multiple generations of smaller prototypes, we are excited to start operating our technology demonstrator on a 150 kW scale in Ireland in a real operational environment,” says Fabrizio Nastri, CEO of Ampyx Power. “The collaboration with RWE and incorporating their vast experience of wind energy into in our product design is a big step toward commercializing our technology.”
RWE’s test center is supported by the Interreg North-West Europe funding program, which was set up by the EU. Its MegaAWE project, of which RWE and Ampyx are partners, was set up to support technology development and commercialization within the airborne wind energy sector. Current AWES demonstrators have power output capacities between 100 and 200 kW. Developing this technology further could increase the potential output to megawatts, making it attractive for use at large wind farms.