Autonomous wind energy drones could soon deploy off Mayo coast

12 Apr 2017

Concept image of the Ampyx Power Airborne Wind Energy System off the coast of Mayo. Image: Ampyx Power

Some strange-looking objects could soon appear off the Mayo coast as E.ON announces hopes to build a test site for airborne wind energy devices.

Ireland has long been considered an ideal location for the adoption of wind energy both onshore and offshore but, as of yet, this has not been taken advantage of to its full extent.

Now, German energy giant E.ON has revealed plans to build a new test site off the coast of Mayo, unlike anything seen in the country before.

In its statement, E.ON announced that it had signed a deal with Dutch renewable energy company Ampyx Power to use its unique Airborne Wind Energy System.

Unlike the familiar windmill designs that dot the Irish landscape, this new system does away with much of the structure, leaving behind only a small platform and generator rising from the sea.

Attached to that platform will be an autonomous aircraft that moves in a cross-wind figure-eight pattern at an altitude from 200 metres up to 450 metres and, with each movement, pulls the tether that drives the generator.

Then, when it needs to, the aircraft can land and take off again from the platform. According to E.ON, the test site will generate 2MW of power when fully operational.

Promises up to 100pc increase in energy over turbines

Previous research conducted by E.ON into the effectiveness of airborne wind energy showed that it can increase energy production by up to 100pc compared to wind turbines.

It does this by being able to position itself at higher altitudes, or where the wind is strongest.

Although the technology has been developed over the past 30 years, Ampyx Power has only been operating since 2008. In that time, it has been developing various prototypes of the renewable energy concept.

“Airborne wind supports one of our overall targets to drive down cost for renewable energy,” said Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath, CEO of E.ON Climate and Renewables.

“In addition to making airborne wind competitive to conventional wind power, we would like to work with authorities and legislators to pave the way for introducing this exciting technology, and eventually make it eligible to participate in tendering processes.”

This isn’t the first time that the company has invested in similar airborne wind energy companies. Last year, it signed a deal with Scottish company Kite Power Systems.

E.ON has not announced when the test site will be constructed, but has simply said it is “committed to invest in the development”.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic