A few years back, I
went by train from Cologne to Basel, a 300 km journey through the
magnificent German country side and most notably the Romantic Rhine Valley.
As you might expect, I didn’t see the Lorelei but I did see quite a few wind
turbines. To my greatest disappointment they were all idle. Not one was
producing a single watt of electricity… This means the electricity used to
power the train was probably produced by coal plants. This is the sad
reality about wind turbines: they produce electricity only part of the time
and not necessarily when we most need it. Wind turbines therefore have to be
backed up by power plants burning fossil fuel. Bottom line is that the
Germans, despite being leaders in the wind energy industry, and despite
their influential green politicians end up producing more CO2 per capita
than the other Europeans.
doesn’t necessarily mean that wind energy is doomed. What it means is that
with on the shelf technology, wind energy probably cannot do much to
significantly curb down CO2 emissions. As is the case with most renewable
energy options, more R&D is needed before wind energy can become
economically and truly environmentally efficient. When you think about it,
nowadays wind turbines are not much more than XXI century versions of the
wind mills our ancestors were using to turn wheat into flour. If wind energy
is to become a major source of energy, I would bet it will be based on a
completely different technological approach. After all Edison didn't invent
the light bulb by improving the candle...
Italian company KiteGen
is actually doing some fascinating research in this regards. They decided to
completely forget the “windmill approach”. They are instead looking into the
possibility of tapping the powerful high altitude winds with kites anchored
to revolving structure called a carrousel. The kites would fly at about 800
meters high. At this altitude, wind is not only very powerful but also
fairly constant, eliminating the need for backup coal plants.
to KiteGen, it would be possible to build a single carrousel with an output
of several GigaWatt ie of similar magnitude to the output of a nuclear
plant. A carrousel of 1 GW would have a footprint of only 8km². (As a
comparison, you would need 2 or 3000 “traditional” wind turbines to produce
the same power output and you would mess up 300km² of land in the process.)
The production cost would be around 10 to 15 €/MWh. This is very cheap and
KiteGen would be profitable and competitive without being subsidized with
taxpayer’s money. (That’s unfortunately rather uncommon in the renewable
energy arena). In fact, electricity produced using KiteGen technology would
be so cheap it could possibly drive nuclear plants out of the market!
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