12 January 2023
Interview with Kristian Petrick, Secretary General of Airborne Wind Europe
This month, we sat down with Kristian Petrick, Secretary General of Airborne Wind Europe, to discuss the growth and development of airborne wind energy, its potential in the years ahead, and the role of WindEurope in helping to make it mainstream.
Can you tell our readers a little about your organisation?
Airborne Wind Europe was founded in 2018 by companies that develop Airborne Wind Energy (AWE) systems as well as universities active in this field. Our objective is to raise awareness of this new technology and to join forces as a sector in order to get AWE recognised in policy and regulation. As of today, we have 15 members, including ten technology developers from Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, UK and the US. Together with TU Delft, Politecnico de Milano, RWTH Aachen and University of Stuttgart we have also key members from academia. Since the end of 2021, Airborne Wind Europe is an Operating Agent of the new AWE-Task 48 of the IEA Wind Technology Collaboration Programme, supported by 11 countries. We are co-funded by the Interreg North-West Europe project MegAWE as well as two new Horizon Europe projects (MERIDIONAL on wind resources and JustWind4All on social acceptance). Our headquarters is in Brussels.
What are the most exciting developments you have seen in the wind industry?
The growth and technical achievements of the wind energy sector over the last decade are impressive for sure. But we know that renewable energies, particularly wind, will have to grow much faster in the years to come. For Airborne Wind, a big milestone was achieved in 2021 when Skysails sold the first commercial 150 kW system. It was amazing to see a 60m2 soft-kite managing to lift up to 3 tonnes and fitting it into a bag that was just 2.5 metres long!
Compared to multi-MW wind turbines and the hundreds of Gigawatts that have been installed, this might sound minuscule. But I’d like to remind the reader that horizontal axis wind turbines also started out small. And we know that this is just the beginning – kites are expected to grow into the megawatt range in the years to come. However, we have learnt the lesson that scaling too quickly isn’t wise, so all our member companies are developing systems in the 100-200 kW range as the first commercial products which can be combined with wind farms of a few MW.
What changes would you like to see in the wind industry?
We would like to see Airborne Wind Energy becoming part of the future renewable energy mix. Already today we are competitive in markets where we compete with diesel-based generation. In many locations across the world, AWE will be the only viable way to tap into wind resources due to logistical or environmental factors. It is key that the established wind players see AWE as another promising opportunity for the entire wind energy sector. In a recent White Paper, BVG Associates have calculated that if AWE follows the same growth curve as established wind energy, the sector could reach up to 177 GW by 2050; in a more ambitious scenario even as high as 271 GW. AWE makes large-scale wind energy potential accessible in altitudes up to 500 m – there is no other technology able to tap into this vast renewable energy resource!
Apart from that, the wind energy sector itself also needs to become more sustainable (even though it already is one of the most sustainable energy sectors). This is particularly urgent when it comes to material use. It is good to see circularity becoming a more important topic. As AWE systems use up to 90% less material, recent LCAs have shown that the Global Warming Potential is at least 40% lower. In addition, we are already looking into bio-based materials to help make the right design choices early on and avoid potential issues in the future. We hope that these benefits will be recognised over time as they will help the entire wind industry.
What role do you see your organisation playing in the future development of wind energy?
Airborne Wind Europe will continue to support the AWE industry in commercialising the technology and getting it onto the deployment curve mentioned above. That is why we are very active in trying to get AWE included in European and national policies and regulation as well as in energy strategies like the SET Plan and the National Energy and Climate Plans. BVGA estimates that over the next 10-15 years, the AWE sector will need some €4bn in electricity price support plus another €1bn in R&D support. From 2035 onwards, the benefits will be huge.
We are also actively looking for joint test and demonstration sites in Europe where our members can fly 24/7, generating plenty of operational hours to further improve the systems and make them ready for global markets – onshore grid connected, remote, offshore, etc. In the next few months we expect to announce some good news on that matter.
How has WindEurope membership benefited your organisation?
We were very pleased that Giles Dickson gave a keynote speech at our bi-annual conference AWEC in 2019. Moreover, membership of WindEurope will help Airborne Wind Energy to become a more prominent technology through the ETIPWind platform and the next SET-Plan. Given the recent advancements in the AWE sector, we are also confident that AWE will be increasingly included in conferences and other events organised by WindEurope, e.g. in sessions on circularity, supply chain security, innovative concepts or social acceptance. There are still too many people out there – even in the wind industry – that have not heard about Airborne Wind Energy and the opportunities it brings for the whole wind energy sector. Therefore it is important for us to be part of WindEurope and to become more visible throughout the network. This is why we also greatly appreciate the chance to feature in this newsletter.
If we look ten years ahead, what do you hope to have achieved?
We hope to have installed at least 2-3 GW of Airborne Wind Energy by then, ideally having overachieved the roadmap I mentioned above. At that point, AWE should be at a similar cost level to established onshore wind. We also hope to have the first offshore systems installed by then – floating offshore will be a market where the low material use of AWE can be exploited to its full potential.
Find out more about Airborne Wind Europe