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Friday Energidote: Kitegen's Prototype Stem

jumpjet's picture

And now for something completely different.

We have our plantidotes, petidotes, and insectidotes here on Corrente, but at least once I thought I might put forward an antidote that humans have made, an antidote to more than one sort of poison.

I have been thinking much lately about the problem of energy. Some of this is owed to my growing up in relative affluence, and so not being touched by the more immediate problems a person of fewer means would face. Regardless of my circumstances, however, I believe my thoughts would naturally gravitate toward energy because of my tendency to look at things on a macro scale. Workers' rights, civil liberties, imperial abuse are all pressing issues, but they take place within the framework of modern civilization, and modern civilization requires energy to exist: electrical, chemical, kinetic, mechanical, thermal. This is where my mind has gone of late, because energy is paramount, and our supply of it is in danger.

The bulk of our civilization's energy right now comes from hydrocarbons: coal, oil, and natural gas. Burning these hydrocarbons has brought upon the world the first beginnings of climate change, with more changes promised in the near future. Meanwhile, the supply of all these hydrocarbons is running short- we may have already passed the global halfway point. Climate change and peak oil/coal/gas are the Scylla and Charybdis of modern humanity, seeming to offer us disaster whichever way we turn.

However, I choose not to despair. Having become an avid reader of the Archdruid Report, I've learned that despair is the least helpful response to a difficult future. Moreover, I have a certain degree of justification for being hopeful, because as our energy problem has grown more dire, some solutions have grown clearer. If we were facing our current level of climate change and hydrocarbon depletion ten years ago, or even five years ago, I would be much more distraught. As things stand, however, certain advancements in the field of energy production have reached maturity, or will do so soon, which increase my confidence in the viability of advanced civilization for the long term. I thought, as an antidote today, I might share one with you. It is in fact one of my favorite solutions: the Kitegen stem, a prototype of which has been running tests since February.

What are the biggest objections to wind power? That the turbines damage the landscape, that they damage the environment, and most importantly, that the wind is not consistent enough to provide constant, on-demand energy, also called baseload power. A nifty thing about wind, though, is that the higher you go the more it blows, and the stronger it blows. In fact, the power potential in wind increases at the cube of the wind's velocity- so if the wind at a certain altitude is double what it is at ground level, the amount of energy available will be eight times what it is at ground level. Hence the push for bigger, taller wind turbines, towers the size of skyscrapers with blades as wide as a jumbo jet's wingspan. Even the tallest towers, however, can't reach the winds 1000 feet off the ground.

This can, though.

I love the Kitegen for its relative simplicity. There are other companies working on high-altitude wind power. Many of them rely on rotors or fans, and my skepticism stems from the need for their tethers to double as power lines, sending electricity from onboard generators back down to earth. The Kitegen's tether, however, is merely a cable, because the Kitegen is meant to harvest mechanical energy: the wind blows the kite high, unspooling the cable and cranking a generator. The cable is then coiled back up, at minimal power usage, and the process repeats.

The machine's not perfect: you'd probably have to reel the kites in during storms, certainly during hurricanes. Past a certain altitude, they would need aviation clearance. And the biggest knock of all is that the stems aren't yet operational. Kitegen is in fundraising mode right now, looking for $50 million to get off the ground.

But it's awfully close.

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Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

Looks to me that, for safety's sake, you need to have lots of empty land around to use a kitegen. In that regard, at least, it doesn't strike me as terribly different from the big wind turbines. There are lots of places it could be used, particularly out West, but not so good for urban environments.

Submitted by lambert on

... partly because I've never heard of such a think, and partly because the 'dote concept seems to be taking off or going viral or something people want to be doing, maybe just to do something, that that's good.

I reaalize my comment is meta, but perhaps it can fall under the heading of "energy"?

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

Many thanks. I still don't quite understand how to embed Youtube videos.

I'm not sure if I want to make this a regular thing or not. It's not quite the same as the other 'dotes, nor does it have exactly the same aim. My goal, I suppose, was to demonstrate that amid the wallbanging idiocy of so many human endeavors, some of us are working on things which are good.

And if I were to make a series of this, I would focus, not merely on technology that is advanced, but also elegant, at least by my tastes. In that regard, maybe it would be similar to the other 'dotes. I fully believe that energy sources can be elegant, should be elegant, should instill hope and happiness by their appearance and their operation.

When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

-Richard Buckminster Fuller