Field: Partnership, Wind power
Global Technical function: Producing energy
Technical Function Unit: Connecting to the grid, Eco-designing, Venture capital for development, demonstration and commercial exploitation
Geographic Area: Germany

Reduced use of fossil fuels in the shipping industry by the introduction of sky sails

A new kind of eco-design for a power system using wind power enables the shipping industry to save energy by reducing the use of fossil fuel. Using flying kites connected to an electric power generator can produce cheaper and vastly more energy than conventional power plants.

The challenge

Wind power is proven to provide added propulsion for ships, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuels. In order to reduce the fossil fuel consumption and emissions, cargo ships need to find a way to use more renewable energy. Hence, there is a growing challenge for producing energy using wind power.


The innovation

By adding wind propulsion in the marine and offshore sector, SkySails GmbH (Germany) developed a new technology for decreasing the use of fossil fuel.

The solution uses large kites at high altitudes (200 and 800 meters), as the winds at high altitudes are richer in energy than winds at surface level. In order to generate electricity at high altitudes the kites need to be large and fully automated, which is the key technology behind SkySails Power system.

A free flying kite with rope is one of the main components of the SkySails Power system. The others are an automated control system, a generator for the production of electrical power, a launch and recovery system, and a support platform.

The process of generating energy starts with the wind pulling the rope from a drum connected to an electric power generator. This phase is the power phase that generates electric power. When the line reaches its maximum length the kite is automatically flown to a position with very low pull. In this phase the generator operates as a motor until the rope’s extended length is short enough to start the next energy-generation phase. Note that the process consumes an insignificant amount of power produced during the power phase. By connecting to the grid, the excess energy is supplied into the electrical power grid.

SkySails Power system is built on a modular design, which simplifies maintenance and repair services by easy replacement of certain components if necessary. Moreover SkySails Power systems small size allows for mass production, easy installation, and short construction times for large wind farms.

The investment for developing the SkySails technology was 50 million euros as venture capital for development, demonstration and commercial exploitation. The company has an international network of investors but the main investors are Oltmann Gruppe, Zeppelin Power Systems, and Royal DMS.N.V.

Why did it work?

Many years of experience from daily use of kites on the ocean it contributed to the success of SkySails Power system. Moreover, the company also benefitted from partnerships and a broad and global patent portfolio.


Further deployment

The technology of SkySails Power system has reached 8 on the TRL scale. The patented technology of SkySails kite propulsion systems has been tested and proven for the tough daily use on cargo ships. It has been shown that in good wind conditions one can allow for a daily energy savings of 10 tons of oil by replacing up to 2 megawatts of power from the main engine. Continued deployment would be more full-scale commercialization.