A2WE: Autonomous Airborne Wind Energy

Contact: Prof. Colin Jones (colin.jones@epfl.ch)

There is more than enough energy available in the wind to provide renewable power at a utility scale on a global basis. However, at the majority of accessible geographic locations, high-speed and consistent winds are only available at altitudes above which modern turbines cannot today reach, nor will they economically be able to in the future due to physical scaling limitations. A cubic relation between wind speed and power strongly motivates a new concept capable of capturing energy from faster and more consistent winds available at higher altitudes.

The Autonomous Airborne Wind Energy (A2WE) project will develop a paradigm-shifting concept in which airfoils are flown at high altitudes (∼500m), transmitting mechanical power to a generator on the ground through a physical tether. This novel approach was first proposed in 1980 and preliminary studies have indicated the potential for an extremely favorable economic situation if several technical challenges can be overcome.  A2WE will target a particularly challenging requirement of such a system: fully autonomous, power-optimizing flight of an airborne generation system in variable weather conditions.

Both ETH and EPFL are searching for one postdoctoral and one PhD student to work on this project as part of a three-university consortium. FHNW is searching for one Automation/Testing Engineer to lead the experimental activities.