Image credit: RWE

Renewable energy company RWE has established its first test centre to investigate the potential of innovative airborne wind energy technologies.

Planning permission to build the new facility in County Mayo, Ireland, has now been granted and construction of the site infrastructure is expected to begin later this year.

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Katja Wünschel, COO Wind Onshore & Photovoltaic Europe & Asia-Pacific, RWE Renewables, said: “The launch of an airborne wind testing site in Ireland is an early move for RWE into a new technology to generate green electricity. Our demonstration project will give us the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the technology being developed and to build valuable relationships with the pioneers and innovators of airborne wind.“

RWE is partnering with Dutch company Ampyx Power to deliver the test site. The site will first undertake testing, verification and demonstration of a 150 kilowatts (kW) demonstrator system, followed later by a larger commercial-scale 1MW system. RWE will also test systems from other Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) developers during the eight year operational lifetime of its test centre.

Airborne Wind Energy Systems harness the strong and steady winds at altitudes greater than several hundred metres, and with reduced infrastructure costs. The system being tested by RWE consists of a ground-based winch generator, a launch and land platform, and small, aircraft-shaped device.

Graphic of launch and land platform. Image credit: RWE

The device, which has a 12-metre (about 40 feet) 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.

RWE’s test centre is supported by the Interreg North-West Europe funding programme, 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.

Fabrizio Nastri, CEO of Ampyx Power said: “After 12 years of hard work and multiple generations of smaller prototypes, we are excited to start operating our technology demonstrator on a 150kW scale in Ireland in a real operational environment. The collaboration with RWE and incorporating their vast experience of wind energy into our product design is a big step toward commercialising our technology.”