Harnessing the power of the tides is an ancient concept, dating back over a millennium when it was used for milling grain. But in today’s world, the methods for capturing this constant and predictable energy source have become far more advanced and intriguing.
Enter the realm of tidal energy kites, a concept that is turning heads with its innovative approach to renewable energy. Among these, a standout is the Dragon 12, a mammoth underwater ‘kite’ designed to swim against ocean currents. As it moves, its rotors turn, generating electricity, which is then transmitted to the power grid through a subsea cable that doubles as the kite’s anchor.
The Dragon 12, poised to be set up off the Faroe Islands, boasts a 12-meter wingspan and is the largest of its kind. This formidable structure is anticipated to produce 1.2MW of clean energy, sufficient to power approximately 1,000 homes. Currently, the kite is en route from Sweden to the Faroe Islands for its much-awaited installation.
This project is the brainchild of Swedish startup Minesto, which took a design initially created by car manufacturer Saab and commercialized it in 2007. Since then, Minesto has continually improved the technology, supported by over €40 million in funding from the European Regional Development Fund, marking it as the EU’s largest investment in marine energy to date.
Tidal stream technology holds enormous potential for renewable energy, yet it remains underexploited. Traditional methods of capturing tidal energy, such as using costly barges or seabed-tethered turbines (akin to underwater wind turbines), often come with significant financial barriers and can negatively impact marine ecosystems.
What sets Minesto’s innovation apart is its compact, modular, and scalable nature. The tidal turbine mimics the flight of a kite, gliding in a figure-eight trajectory through the water at speeds multiple times faster than the current itself. This unique movement allows the kite to generate a significant amount of electricity relative to its size.
Looking ahead, Minesto, in collaboration with local energy utility SEV, has ambitious plans for the Faroe Islands. Their goal is to establish a 120MW tidal kite array, comprising around 100 kites. This impressive setup has the potential to fulfill 40% of the electricity needs of the Faroe Islands, showcasing the remarkable capabilities of tidal energy kites in contributing to a sustainable energy future.
The journey from ancient tide mills to these modern energy ‘kites’ signifies a significant leap in our quest for renewable energy sources. As technology like Minesto’s continues to evolve, it not only exemplifies innovation in action but also underscores the vast potential of our oceans in the global shift towards clean energy.