The launch of Norwegian company Kitemill’s latest airborne wind energy (AWE) technology, the KM2 system, will bring AWE to utility-scale, says the company.

The KM2 system features a 16m wingspan and four propellers for vertical take-off and landing. It has the potential to generate 100kW on average, says Kitemill, which notes the previous KM1 prototype completed more than 500 test flights and recently set a new endurance record, covering more than 500km in five hours of continuous operation.

To accelerate the development of the KM2 system, Kitemill has launched a crowdfunding initiative to support the construction of the world’s first permanent test centre for AWE, facilitating the testing and refinement of the KM2 system. Furthermore, the company has been selected to participate in the €7.5m ($8.42m) Norse Airborne Wind Energy Project, backed by the EU Innovation Fund. As part of this project, at least 12 KM2 units will be installed in an array in Holtålen, Norway.

The potential of AWE is highlighted in a recent white paper by BVG Associates, commissioned by trade association Airborne Wind Europe. The paper estimates that the AWE market could grow to approximately $100bn by 2035–40 and potentially exceed several hundred billion soon after. Comparing the AWE market to the historical growth of traditional wind turbines, BVG projects a cumulative global deployment of AWE, reaching 5GW by 2035 and at least 177GW by 2050.

Kitemill’s CEO, Thomas Hårklau, believes these estimates are conservative and that once viable products enter the market at a reasonable cost, the deployment of AWE will accelerate even further.

Political support for airborne wind energy is growing, with Norway including it in its national energy research strategy, underscoring the technology’s potential as a game-changing renewable energy source.

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Looking ahead, Kitemill envisions scaling up the KM2 system to a 40m wingspan, capable of generating up to 3,000kW.

“AWE offers a number of unique benefits compared to traditional wind turbines,” said Hårklau in a press statement. “By harvesting wind at higher altitudes, we utilise a larger air volume, reducing the wake effect allowing higher energy per square kilometre. Already demonstrating access to better wind resources, we also expect to achieve a high-capacity factor of around 60%, filling the void of more intermittent renewables and bringing greater stability to the grid.

“Another huge benefit is the overall material consumption, which is up to 90% lower than conventional wind turbines regardless of scale. The flexibility of our technology also allows the system to be relocated or delivered as temporary or remote installations. In all, this makes AWE deployments highly scalable, reducing the costs, materials and space required to deliver clean and reliable energy.”