I recently presented to the Airborne Wind Energy Conference 2019 in Glasgow on airborne wind energy’s potential for onshore wind.

Airborne wind energy (AWE) technology is evolving rapidly and could become mainstream in the next decade. The focus for many of AWE technology developers is offshore, particularly on floating platforms at deep water sites. This is for three main reasons:

  1. There is less competition from other energy sources. On land AWE must compete with very cheap alternatives like ‘traditional’ onshore wind and solar.
  2. The material mass, applied bending loads and physical size of the devices are much smaller than conventional wind, meaning significant cost savings can be made in the support structure, installation and OMS.
  3. Consenting and planning is likely to be less problematic, with fewer restrictions in deployment locations.

Onshore markets could still be an important market for some in AWE, however. Onshore offers a low-cost opportunity to demonstrate proof of concept and build up capacity, accelerating cost reduction. There are also areas of the globe without access to a reliable grid; this gives AWE technology developers opportunities to build volume and evolve technology at smaller scales than will be needed for offshore.

In a recent study we characterised the global potential for onshore AWE in comparison to alternatives. Using a GIS approach, we calculated the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of conventional wind, solar and diesel gensets across the world. The LCOE depends on the energy produced and the costs incurred by a project over its lifetime. The geospatial variance of the technologies was captured by using global datasets, namely annual average wind speed, solar irradiation and country-scale diesel price, which were combined with representative system costs. These costs were assumed to be constant for the analysis, dictated by the project budget, although in reality these will vary according to regional factors like logistical costs, tax regimes and local labour cost.

The output of the analyses were “heatmaps” of LCOE over the globe. At each specific point analysed the lowest cost technology was identified. Then the LCOE for a comparatively scaled AWE device was calculated and compared to the most cost competitive conventional case to identify the most suitable areas for the AWE technology. This output is presented in Figure 1.


Figure 1 LCOE of the AWE device vs the cheapest conventional technology. The green areas indicate where the AWE device is cheaper, the red areas where one of the conventional technologies is cheaper

A further analysis considered exclusion zones, areas where AWE use is deemed to be unviable due to socioeconomic and environmental factors. Examples of exclusions included proximity to airports and urban areas, remote areas far from road infrastructure, high altitudes and low wind speed areas. These layers were also derived from global GIS datasets, and allowed priority markets for AWE onshore to be identified. This enabled us to rank potential markets based on the size and the likely role they will play in the development of AWE.

Ciaran Frost with thanks to KPS Energy for agreeing to us using some data from project work for them’