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New Wave Energy wants to put power plants in the sky

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November 25, 2013

A model of a high altitude aerial power plant that harvests both solar and wind energy and...

A model of a high altitude aerial power plant that harvests both solar and wind energy and beams it wirelessly to the ground. (Image: New Wave Energy UK)

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Harvesting power from the wind and the sun is nothing new. We've seen flying wind turbines and solar power plants that aim to provide clean renewable energy. UK-based New Wave Energy has a bolder idea in the works. The company plans to build the first high altitude aerial power plant, using networks of unmanned drones that can harvest energy from multiple sources and transmit it wirelessly to receiving stations on the ground.

The patent-pending technology aims to have drone networks hover in the sky harvesting both solar and wind power, while moving about at low speeds to keep track of the sun. The drones will operate at high altitudes where the winds are more stable and there's minimal chance of weather patterns or aircraft interfering with them.

"At 50,000 ft (15,000 m) there is very little air traffic and biodiversity, unless you go over the Himalayas," company director Michael Burdett tells Gizmag. "Implementing a system in these conditions will not obstruct any existing systems."

Each 20 x 20 m (65 x 65 ft) drone will have four rotors, multiple wind turbines and a flat base for generating solar power. It'll be able to power itself with the harvested energy and generate an additional 50 kW that can be transmitted wirelessly to the ground. Rectenna arrays installed inland or on offshore installations would receive the electromagnetic waves and convert them into usable power.

Burdett estimates that an aerial power plant containing thousands of drones could produce around 400 MW of power, enough to power over 205,000 homes annually. Designed to be easy to update, the drone networks can be outfitted with more efficient generators as they become available. A drone power plant capable of delivering so much power, the company says, would be pretty large, around twice the size of an offshore wind farm such as the Robin Rigg farm in the Solway Firth, Scotland.

Though it sounds quite ambitious, there have been a number of advances in drone design and technology that help give an aerial power plant some weight. Solara's UAV can stay airborne for up to 5 years and Quadrotor's UAVs are able to charge devices wirelessly. Getting a power-producing drone network airborne also offers other benefits, such as being able to link small aerial power plants to each other wirelessly to deliver large amounts of energy reliably.

The company states that it will be able to handle energy output within a drone network as efficiently as managing data in an information network. An aerial power plant also makes it easier to provide power to remote locations with long range transmissions, or help out immediately in the event of an emergency or a natural disaster.

"The time for a response in times of natural disaster depends on the drone's current location and flight speed once the final form is specified," Burdett says. "Using smaller drones of 50 to 100 kW will reduce implementation times. It would be feasible to produce a system to operate at lower altitudes if required, one which could be transported with other equipment for relief efforts and implemented instantly."

Aside of the obvious advantage of requiring little or no land space, the drone networks would be invisible to the naked eye making it realistic for them to be installed anywhere. The company aims to make use of the unpopulated airspace over the Atlantic, Indian or Pacific Ocean first. Burdett states that New Wave Energy will be able to deliver energy around the clock to many different parts of the world using solar, wind, thermoelectrics, infrared and visible spectrum rectennas.

It took around two years for New Wave Energy UK to develop the technology. The company plans to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise around £300,000 (US$500,000) and expects to have a working prototype within 6 months of receiving funding.

Source: New Wave Energy UK

About the Author
Lakshmi Sandhana When Lakshmi first encountered pig's wings in a petri dish, she realized that writing about scientists and imagineers was the perfect way to live in an expanding mind bubble. Articles for Wired, BBC Online, New Scientist, The Economist and Fast Company soon followed. She's currently pursuing her dream of traveling from country to country to not only ferret out cool stories but also indulge outrageously in local street foods. When not working, you'll find her either buried nose deep in a fantasy novel or trying her hand at improvisational comedy.   All articles by Lakshmi Sandhana
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32 Comments

So... a new low for solar power generation efficiency?

Bob Ehresman
25th November, 2013 @ 08:25 am PST

How do they plan to generate more energy from the "wind" passing across the drone than it takes to drive the drone through the air.

Slowburn
25th November, 2013 @ 08:47 am PST

Ah, another green energy investment scam. Not the first, and it won't be the last. Wireless energy transmission over 15 km is close to impossible, multirotor drones need very regular maintenance, and keeping them up there requires more energy than they can harvest.

Joris van den Heuvel
25th November, 2013 @ 09:31 am PST

Wishful thinking is not going to make it so. Not even with pretty pictures.

Paul van Dinther
25th November, 2013 @ 12:20 pm PST

Thank you for your comments above.

I would like to assure you all that this is not a scam and this is a serious project. To answer these questions I would like to state that this project is in its early stages and the specific form of the drones are yet to be determined. The information provided above is from preliminary data only.

The final form of the power plants is subject to change pending further research and optimisation. I can also confirm we are already discussing this project with UAV experts who find this project promising and feasible.

The energy requirements for a multirotor UAV are subject to the specification for the aircraft and there is more wind and solar energy potential at higher altitudes than on the ground. These facts have already been identified by other aerial generation projects and we are soon to begin our own research into this subject.

In regards to wireless power transmission, it is feasible to transmit energy over distances far greater then 15Km. The technology for this has already been developed and proven by multiple projects by other bodies.

These projects include Space Energy and the Mitsubishi Solar Bird. These projects all plan to utilise wireless power transmission from space making this a far greater distance than we are proposing. The technology as mentioned has already been proven for feasibility and safety and has been published in papers by these bodies and PG&E have already purchased solar power to be delivered wirelessly using this transmission system to commence from 2016 for ten years.

This document is one which is available for viewing on their website and has been since 2009.

There currently exists multiple projects for aerial generation including Makani, Ampyx and Sky wind power of these one does plan to use a multi-rotor drone while others use other solutions. If you have any further comments please contact us by E-Mail and we would be happy to discuss this with you.

New Wave Energy UK Ltd
25th November, 2013 @ 01:37 pm PST

A quadrocopter at that altitude is a complete non-starter - the air pressure will be far too low to generate enough thrust to support the weight. It needs the form factor of a U2 to fly that high. Winds can be extremely strong in the stratosphere away from the tropics. Let alone the logistics of getting it there, maintaining it and transmitting the power 15km through clouds....

GCW
25th November, 2013 @ 01:56 pm PST

Three things:

* Inverse square law. How much power can you really transmit to the ground via RF?

* Thanks for further ruining the skies for astronomers. Light pollution is bad enough, but actually eclipsing stars and other deep sky objects with these things?

* How do you plan to generate more power than wind than required to remain aloft and hovering in a stationary position?

This is surely a scam.

Kimberly Lazarski
25th November, 2013 @ 04:02 pm PST

I am rather more intrigued by trying to work out how they get the power onshore - QUOTE: "Using unpopulated airspace over the oceans first" That will presumably need a floating platform for the rectenna network - which, of course will need to be very large as the higher your starting point, the wider your at-ground beam spread - so will need cables etc. to land the power. An on-land rectenna would also take up space often needed for housing, so what next?

The Skud
25th November, 2013 @ 05:21 pm PST

This sounds like a scam with a bunch of buzzwords to trap the technically illiterate investor.

Keeping the drones in one place in the strong winds in the upper atmosphere is going to waste a huge amount of energy. Also steering the drones by changing the angle the drone is flying at and aiming the solar panel will inevitably conflict. Finally, to generate power from a wind turbine needs some resistance to the turbine traveling with the wind. If that resistance is coming from powered flight into the wind, it will require more power than the turbines can generate.

Michaelc
25th November, 2013 @ 08:06 pm PST

When their kickstarter campain ends with $100 in pledges, they will then understand.

christopher
25th November, 2013 @ 09:46 pm PST

Existing solar powered planes barely keep themselves aloft, using much more efficient propeller/wing design. Helicopter type design uses more energy. I believe that they need calm wind conditions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_aircraft

If this is remotely possible they should be able to build JUST ONE using a commercially available solar panel and rotors, and just get it off the ground, just ten feet. Take any excess power off using a wire.

Don't need $500000 for that.

THEN figure out how much money you spent to make that electical power you got (if any), and figure how long it will take to pay for the unit. Then ask if the sun will explode before you reach that point.

My understanding is that existing rooftop solar panels only pay off after 10-20 years, and need special tax breaks to do that.

Norm Frey
25th November, 2013 @ 11:35 pm PST

CamPAIN is good - even if a slip.

This is called flying a kite.

You fly a kite on a string.

The wind on the tethered kite generates lift: you fly.

You can thus carry a turbine up high, and generate energy.

But this needs a tether going up 50,000 feet vertically, and more horizontally - a twenty mile long ball of string. (?)

But there is to be no string.

So, no kite.

Nor lift.

Just repeating what is already said, but in a different form: but then I came late to the show.

Chris Goodwin
26th November, 2013 @ 01:30 am PST

I've been following this on a list where they were trying to cherry-pick a few supporters out of the chorus of skeptics. The wind harvesting has to rely on differential soaring, lacking the usual kite string, and of course, there have to be receivers wherever the wind carries them. The principals seem sincere, but stubbornly innumerate. The scheme could provide decades of development jobs, but where's the market for watt-hours at thousands of times the usual market rate?

Bob Stuart
26th November, 2013 @ 01:53 am PST

Beautifully presented which, so very often, comes first and foremost. Designed-in inefficiency, offering good reason to keep looking up, and to take out insurance against being brained by nice, shiny things. There is a need practical solutions.

Jon Catling
26th November, 2013 @ 01:56 am PST

Solar energy from one of these gizmos is at least theoretically possible, though I have strong doubts about net output. Solar photovoltaics are already less than 20% efficient. Deduct the power cost of keeping the thing aloft, energy losses in wireless transmission and I doubt there's anything left. Quite aside from having to land these things every evening and re-launch them to altitude every morning.

But the notion of generating WIND power with a free-flying aircraft is utterly absurd on its face, and brands this project "pie in the sky" and unworthy of serious consideration.

piolenc
26th November, 2013 @ 01:58 am PST

I have supported a number of KickStarter projects. This one won't be added to the list.

splatman
26th November, 2013 @ 02:55 am PST

Pull the other one sir, it's got bells on it.

GeoffG
26th November, 2013 @ 02:56 am PST

Have not seen any of the proposed wireless frequencies mentioned.

High powered RF usually present a health risk of one sort or another.

As most people know by now microwaves can literally cook people and animals, and even in the HF part of the spectrum (used to be called "the short waves") other problems such as cateracts can be caused.

The idea of megawatts of RF blasting down from the skies is just ludicrous. Yes, it certainly looks like a scam to me!

professore
26th November, 2013 @ 04:10 am PST

I'm going to call BS on this idea. seems like one of them there 420 ideas. puff-puff-pass.

Jay Finke
26th November, 2013 @ 08:31 am PST

This will all be irrelevant when Andria Rossi's ECats, Defkalion's similar cold fusion generators, and Nanospires sonofusion devices appear on the market.

Hoyt
26th November, 2013 @ 08:34 am PST

It appears the blokes at New Wave actually believe there is something to this. This, in spite of the cast that solar powered aircraft are barely able to stay aloft in sunlight and require hugely expensive batteries to endure through the night. Doing this with a helicopter approach will prove impossible.

Untethered, there is no way to extract wind energy. End of discussion.

Michael, stick to IT.

CliffG
26th November, 2013 @ 08:46 am PST

No tether, no wind power. Just a fact. And how will it stay on station if in high winds?

Nor is transmitting power by RF eff.

This is a bunch of fools who really don't have a clue.

If you want to do something smart make home/building size normal wind and solar CSP units that last 50 yrs and under $2k/kw.

jerryd
26th November, 2013 @ 09:02 am PST

Anyone who invests a penny in this idea should be legally considered mentally incompetent and be provided a refund on those grounds. Defying the laws of thermodynamics should be the first clue something is wrong. In order to collect wind energy, this giant quadrotor would need to use much more energy to fight against the wind in order to remain in a stationary position than could be collected from the turbine.

New Wave Energy UK LTD should instead consider investing their time and money in a grade-school science book.

pmodiano
26th November, 2013 @ 09:58 am PST

When one looks at the R&D, capital, operating and maintanence costs, low ROI, there is only one investor dumb enough to invest in it: The United States Government under the Obama Administration.

Kiss another 1/2B$ good-bye.

Dave Merriam
26th November, 2013 @ 10:09 am PST

These things are not going to be high enough, they should just be in orbit and beam down the energy with microwaves.

Nelson Hyde Chick
26th November, 2013 @ 10:44 am PST

Maybe not a scam, certainly but misguided and missing a few key data points. Much like the young man who claims he can clear up the oceanic gyres in 5 years (contributions to his fund will finance this young mans scuba trip to the Mediterranean). And in like manner a Kickstarter campaign may keep the folks at New Wave Energy busy for a while. The hope is that they may stumble upon something useful.

Bruce H. Anderson
26th November, 2013 @ 11:27 am PST

GizMag's article references the SOLARA solar powered plane, which will stay aloft for five years (if ever produced),as an example of a project which seems to reinforce this ridiculous idea of solar powered drones generating electricity. The SOLARA model can barely support itself (if indeed it even can) , much less carry additional solar cells... and it is an airplane, with lifting surfaces, not a drone , which stays aloft on pure power. I'm amazed I'm even bothering to comment on this drone nonsense... and the bit about generating more power from the high altitude winds!!!

Give me a break... and Kickstarters, please read up on your science.

Obama..this one is right up your alley

bushlooper
26th November, 2013 @ 02:03 pm PST

better to run this one on April 1st!

ADVENTUREMUFFIN
26th November, 2013 @ 07:01 pm PST

I'd hate to fly through the beam (s). Me thinks I have detected the passing of a male bovine.

JohnMTO
27th November, 2013 @ 06:57 am PST

does this mean goodbye to all the honey bees that are already being affected by radio waves??

Dave Hargraves
27th November, 2013 @ 09:10 am PST

A Chinook CH-47F has a staggering 7 MW of engine power available. Granted, it can take off weighing 22,680 kg but it requires a positively massive amount of power, and reaches a maximum height of only 5,640 meters.

A 1,000 kg power station would, in simple comparison, need 300 kW to stay afloat at 5,640 meters, probably twice that at 15,000 meters.

Let's forget harvesting wind energy, that's impossible in an untethered vehicle. Let's assume a 20x20 meter solar panel and an optimistic 200 W per square meter, and you get a measly 80 kW, best case scenario.

Joris van den Heuvel
27th November, 2013 @ 03:53 pm PST

I believe, yet another problem is... Just how are they going to deal with the ice loading... or even if so, could they possibly stay afloat and work on a utility timescale (at least 30 years to pay off capital expenses)?

Angel Bernal
3rd December, 2013 @ 05:15 pm PST
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