Suspending Wind Turbines from Kites

Robert Cringely penned an article on PBS a few weeks back about a company that has a creative way to improve the efficiency of wind generated power. Rather than using windmills, which rarely run at full capacity due to inconsistent wind at typical windmill heights, why not use ginormous kites to raise windmills up to heights where winds are consistently strong?

Oh, and We Also Saved the World

What’s cool about these tethered tensile wings, he explained, is that they can be designed in such a way that no aircraft fuselage is needed and yet they can lift (vertically, straight from the ground, no runway even required!) enormous weights. And I mean ENORMOUS weights, like a thousand tons. A fully loaded Boeing 747-400 weighs about 400 tons, so a THOUSAND tons would change the nature of airfreight.

But there’s an even better application for this technology than airfreight, he explained, electric power generation. Build a gigantic tethered tension wing and power it with electric motors mounted in the leading edge of the wing. Send the electricity to run these motors up the tether, itself. The wing will take off vertically and once it is at the end of its rope, so to speak, can be made to circle thousands, or even tens of thousands, of feet off the ground without a pilot or any sort of crew.

The idea has intrigued me enough to try it on a much smaller scale. Can I lift a windmill with a kite I handle myself?

I’ve started researching the concept, and am trying to do this on a relatively small budget. As a first attempt, I’ve ordered a kite off Amazon that’s apparently capable of pulling a kayaker a few knots faster. After discounts, that came to around $40.

Now I need a wind turbine that I can attach to the kite. A little searching dug up this model, which happens to be sold by a company within biking distance of my house. That seems workable, but I’m open to suggestions on other wind turbines that may be a better fit for this test.

The next decision is whether to draw that power down the line in a Ben Franklin like fashion, or power some lights attached to the wind turbine. The latter is probably easier, but the former is closer to replicating what Makani Power is trying to do on a much larger scale.

What do you think? Does the kite I’ve chosen have any chance of lifting a wind turbine? Will the weight of a copper line running between the kite and me be too much weight for the kite to handle? Will my hair stick straight out when I’m successful?

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