Middle East ripe for wind-powered kite systems

MIDDLE EAST: Airborne wind energy systems such as tethered kites could provide an alternative power source in the Middle East, Saudi Arabian researchers have found.

Airborne wind energy systems such as Kite Power Systems' tethered technology (above) could thrive in the Middle East, researcher found

The most favourable regions for high-altitude wind energy in the Middle East are over parts of Saudi Arabia and Oman, the team from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) concluded.

This was due to the Saudi Arabia’s vast area and Oman’s high wind speeds, as well as both countries’ consistent wind resources.

After analysing raw data from US space agency Nasa, the researchers claimed sufficiently large airborne wind energy systems (AWES) being deployed in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Yemen, could help the five countries meet more than 75% of their energy consumption.

Wind resources generally become more abundant at higher altitudes, the KAUST team wrote in their study ‘High-altitude wind resources in the Middle East’, which appeared in weekly science journal Nature.

"Optimal altitudes for the turbines vary by region and with time of year and time of day," author of the paper Andrew Yip said.

Wind supply is also more reliable higher up, leading some researchers to explore the possibilities of harnessing this wind power.

In California, Google-owned designer Makani is developing an aerodynamic wing tethered to the ground. Its latest prototype transfers up to 600kW to the grid, it claims.

Elsewhere, Shell-backed UK firm Kite Power Systems trialled a single 500kW pilot project in Scotland. It is reportedly planning to install an array of ten 500kW kite systems in 2020.

Current tethered kite technology would most likely allow harvesting of wind energy at heights of between 2-3 kilometres, but wind resources are even greater at higher altitudes, the KAUST researchers concluded.

The team now plans to focus on regional variations in how airborne wind energy systems might contribute to electricity grids.

It would look into how spacing these systems might offer insights into the impact of large-scale deployment.

"AWES presents an excellent opportunity to champion the technological transfer and development of a maturing next-generation technology in a region with an increasingly knowledge-based and energy-intensive economy," the researchers wrote.