Using drones for electricity generation

12 June 2024
A prototype drone that will be used to test how the AWES wind energy harvesting system will operate. Source: University of Bristol

Researchers from the University of Bristol have developed a system that uses unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, to harvest wind energy.

Called Airborne Wind Energy Systems (AWES), the system tethers a drone to a ground station where it harvests wind power at higher altitudes than conventional wind turbines. The high wind pulls the drone away from the ground station, which drives the generator to produce electricity.

The team landed a $477,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to conduct further research into the drone harvesting system.

The most power

For generating the most power, the AWES platform must fly in complex patterns that contain strong aerodynamic forces. This creates a system where delicate handling must be performed. Any slight miscalculation could send the drone tumbling to the ground.

The University of Bristol said the technology could prove to be a new way to reduce the U.K.’s carbon footprint for both offshore and onshore wind harvesting. Additionally, it could enhance wind energy generation in remote areas.

However, more work needs to be done to improve the safety and efficiency of the AWES platform.

“Airborne wind energy has enormous potential and is anticipated to generate €70 billion per year worth of electricity by 2050,” said Dur H. Nguyen, professor at the University of Bristol’s School of Civil, Aerospace and Design Engineering. “However, it is still an emerging technology. In many cases, a trade-off has been made: New designs have been rapidly deployed for test flights before their flying characteristics are fully understood. This has prevented many AWES prototypes from achieving full capacity in operation, leading to early termination of the program and hindering commercialization.”

The project will address the commercialization challenge using bifurcation and continuation methods, which have been successfully used in aircraft dynamic studies to predict dangerous behaviors such as:

  • Pilot-induced oscillation
  • Flutter
  • Spin

Researchers said replacing bifurcation methods with these techniques allows the AWES to achieve significant cost savings and improved performance that will help with commercialization.

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