Industry Prepares to Meet Challenges and Sets the Stage for Rapid Technology Advancement

What a difference a year can make. In November 2009, 68 people attended the High Altitude Wind Power Conference in Chico, CA. Attendance at this year’s Airborne Wind Energy Conference 2010 more than doubled with 156 registered participants. The 2010 event took place on September 28 - 29 at Stanford University.

The two day conference attracted a wide range of participants and provided a rich and varied agenda. It also marked the industry’s entrée as a legitimate potentially-advanced energy technology. Eight companies provided technology and corporate updates while individual speakers and panels addressed a broad range of topics essential to the industry’s development.

Conference Attendees

Conference attendees were able to interact with representatives from U.S. governmental agencies: The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects – Energy (ARPA-E) and National Renewable Energy Research Laboratory (NREL), NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In addition, a strong international presence on the program and in the audience. Representatives from 15 countries attended the conference including Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Korea, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, United Kingdom and the U.S., demonstrating the scope and breadth of worldwide technology interest and development. This showing signified the scope and breadth of worldwide technology development.

Nancy Connelly, Joby Energy business development team member and chief conference organizer, considered the conference a solid success that sets the stage for the 2011 conference.

“Attendee evaluations reported that 98% of participants rated the overall value of the event as excellent to very good,” she said. “The 2010 event was a successful showcase for technology development, a great learning opportunity and an unparalleled networking event.”

JoeBen Bevirt, Joby Energy founder and Airborne Wind Energy Consortium chair, said the event definitely met its goal of gaining industry visibility and credibility.

“It also coalesced international industry leaders and laid out a clear road map for addressing deployment challenges,” he said.

Conference sponsors included Airborne Wind Energy Consortium members: Ampyx Power, Joby Energy, Magenn Power, Makani Power, NTS Energie und Transportsysteme GmbH and Sky WindPower. Other sponsors include Raptor Radar Wind Profilers (DeTect, Inc.) was supported by the California State University – Chico, Cleantech Law Partners, Clean Technology and Sustainable Industries Organization (CTSI) , Greentech Media, Ohio Aerospace Institute and RECHARGE News.

Airborne Wind Energy Conference 2010 Presentations are available online.

For more information or to join the Airborne Wind Energy Consortium, e-mail: or visit the website.

The Airborne Wind Energy Consortium announces two new membership categories:

Academic Institution level - $500 Information-only stream of membership designed for institutions wishing to support the advancement of the industry (includes one complimentary conference registration).

Student level - $100 Membership for current full-time students who wish to be part of a growing global network of companies and individuals working to create a sustainable energy future (includes one complimentary conference registration).

Industry Finds Key FAA Liaison to Build Dialogue with FAA

Critical dialogue with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was initiated at the Airborne Wind Energy Conference 2010 on Sept. 28 and 29th at Stanford University. Elizabeth Lynn Ray, Director of Airspace and Aeronautical Information Management, provided an overview of regulatory challenges.

She said it was essential to bring the appropriate industry players and federal agencies to the table and volunteered to jumpstart the dialogue.

“I see myself playing a coordinating role – pulling together the various interests to begin discussions,” Ray said. “Even though the technology is in a very early stage, it’s the right time to sit down with key players to discuss the technology and get inter-agency feedback.”

Ray stressed the importance of bringing industry developers together to begin developing basic categories to describe the various technologies like surface vs. onboard, kite systems or rigid wing, upper boundary layer vs. jet stream.

“It’s the right time for the industry to group itself according to design similarities and to develop a coordinated approach since the wide variation in system designs complicates the regulatory process,” Ray said. “As you move forward, concepts of operation are very important -- thinking about what will be needed to operate -- will they need pilots, operators?”

Ray predicts the industry will require significant studies and testing to develop acceptable categories and that height really does matter.

“Anything flying above 500 feet is classified as an obstruction unless study proves other wise; and anything flying above 2000 feet is hazardous unless proven otherwise,” she said. “It’s a tough high bar to clear to prove safety.”

Ray describes the FAA as an organization with a very public process that must consider multiple federal agency interests while balancing the safety interests of the aviation industry and the general public.

She also suggested that using the experience and studies of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV’s) may be helpful to the industry since many UAV systems use similar technologies.

Aerospace Industry Giant Honeywell Takes Close Look at Airborne Wind Energy

The fact that Honeywell International has invested in exploring airborne wind energy systems indicates that the industry is gaining traction as a potential advanced energy contender. Honeywell’s airborne wind energy concept was a main attraction at the Airborne Wind Energy Conference 2010 at Stanford University in September. Honeywell has at least two significant advantages at its disposal – 1) decades of aeronautical experience, and 2) expertise in autonomous controls.

Eric Blumer, Honeywell’s Director of Advanced Technology presented the Honeywell airborne wind energy concept to a packed audience. The 2 MW Honeywell turbine concept has a wingspan of 57 feet and will carry two one-megawatt turbines at approximately 5,000 feet. The model of a 2MW system is evocative of a huge and graceful flying stingray.

According to Blumer, the turbines mounted at the back of the vehicle serve as stabilizers and in the case of a tether breaking, the vehicle would remain airborne.

"Because of the trailing turbine, you have to work hard to go out of control," he said. “If it became untethered, it would fly in lazy figure-eights. This thing likes to fly".

Despite the fact that Honeywell’s research confirms that the basic concept is sound, Blumer says Honeywell is unlikely to jump into industry R&D.

"We can't do the venture capital thing. We have to go into established markets," he said. "Aerospace is a growth industry. If this grows it, we're all for it."
(Material from this article adapted from GreenTech Media.)

Fort Felker: Engineering Challenges of Airborne Wind Technology

Fort Felker, Director of the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), presented a straightforward analysis of challenges facing airborne wind energy development and deployment.

While some conference participants lamented Felker’s lack of unbridled enthusiasm for airborne wind energy, most appreciated his forthright and thorough analysis. Felker addressed the complexities of readying the technology and touched on diverse topics ranging from risk assessment to controls and environmental issues.

Felker recommended that companies work together to address the similar issues companies will face and to learn from the conventional wind industry.

Felker’s blend of education (M.S and Ph.D. from Stanford University in mechanical engineering), his expertise in wind turbine engineering and aeronautics, and his experience in both the public and private sectors expertise lend credibility to his perspective on the challenges ahead for airborne wind energy.

He suggested that the industry use a risk management approach to meet a number of challenges including certification and safety standards and also emphasized the importance of developing and validating simulation tools.

Joby Energy Conference Visibility and Leadership

Recognizing that the fledgling airborne wind energy industry would benefit from sharing knowledge and addressing common challenges, Joby Energy Founder JoeBen Bevirt dedicated significant resources to the 2010 Conference planning and implementation efforts.

“I saw this as a strategic investment for the industry,” Bevirt said. “We’re at a critical juncture where policy and regulatory challenges share almost equal billing with the technology’s challenges.”

Bevirt commended the entire Joby Energy business development team for pulling off a professional and successful conference.

“I was impressed at how the team pulled together -- especially by the work of Nancy Connelly, the chief conference organizer and Archan Padmanabhan who put together a program of dynamic, expert speakers,” he said.

Joby Energy engineers Michael Sherback and Archan Padmanabhan presented technical talks at the conference and Bevirt delivered a company update.