© Kitekraft

Kitekraft: Airborne Wind Turbines

Generating clean and affordable energy with airborne wind turbines – this is exactly what the Munich startup Kitekraft has made their mission. In our interview, Kitekraft tells us more about how the wind turbines work and the challenges the startup has already faced.

Munich Startup: Who are you and what do you do? Please briefly introduce yourselves and your product!

Kitekraft: We build flying wind power plants. This kind of power plant includes a tethered electric aircraft, which is also called a kite. The kite has onboard (“flying”) wind turbines. The kite flies in horizontal figure eights to generate electrical energy with wind. That makes the kite similar to the outer part of the blade of a conventional wind turbine, which is the most effective part, because it comes in contact with the greatest surface. Our Kitekraft systems, in contrast, do not need hundreds of tons of concrete and steel for a tower and foundation, but instead require just a thin electromechanical cable and software algorithms. In that sense, we’re “digitizing” energy production itself: The kite is basically a computer with wings. The logistics, setup and inspections are much simpler and more cost effective than for conventional wind power plants, making the kites ideal for remote areas with limited infrastructure. The kite can easily reach high altitudes with strong winds. Savings of up to 50 percent are possible in comparison to other energy sources. Another advantage of “digitizing concrete and steel” is that a Kitekraft system is hardly visible, which means there’s no need for a tower or huge rotor blades.

In 2019, we – André Frirdich (28), Christoph Drexler (29), Florian Bauer (31) and Max Isensee (31) – founded Kitekraft. Starting in 2013, Florian first conducted research as a master’s student and then while working on his doctorate on flying wind turbine technology at the Institute for Electrical Drive Systems and Power Electronics at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). He is an electrical engineer and responsible for electronic engineering and software algorithms at Kitekraft. André and Christoph also wrote their master’s theses on the subject. Both are mechanical engineers, and André focuses on aerodynamics. André and Christoph are therefore responsible for the mechanical and aerodynamic components of Kitekraft system development. Max is a renewable energy engineer, has already worked in the startup scene and co-founded a climate protection organization. He takes care of business development at Kitekraft.

Not new: the “crosswind kite power” concept

Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!

Kitekraft: The concept of “crosswind kite power” was indeed explained back in 1980 in a paper by Miles Loyd. The number of startups and research groups has been growing since the 2000s. Florian, for example, was and is part of the community as a researcher and was able to gain in-depth knowledge of all of the concepts and compare them. His goal was to figure out if airborne wind energy really was up to the task of making a significant contribution to renewable energy production, and if it was, then how that airborne wind turbine needed to look.

That is exactly what he answered in his doctoral thesis. We’re currently implementing the result: Kitekraft is the only solution that can be technically and economically implemented from a small scale (starting at approx. 10 kW) up to a very large scale (10 MW). We’re making use of this advantage, because the technology can be quickly marketed with revenue as well as customer and technology validation, and then also scaled.

Munich Startup: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Kitekraft: The biggest challenge has been finding a robust combination of kite construction, sensors, actuators and software algorithms that function efficiently. A Kitekraft system is complex, but once you find the solution – that’s what the four of us engineers who founded Kitekraft are working on – it’s easy to produce large amounts and scale up.

Munich Startup: Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: How is business going?

Kitekraft: We’re still developing and testing our demonstrator on a scale of 1:2. Its relatively small dimensions allow for quick and affordable tests and iterations. We plan to double the wingspan very soon, which will allow us to increase the output by fourfold. Non-linear effects, for example in aerodynamics, make it very lucrative to scale the kite up.

First pilot system planned for 2021

The 20 kW Kitekraft system is our product for entering the market, you might call it our “Tesla Roadster.” We’re already planning pilot systems near Munich for next year (2021). The 20 kW Kitekraft system is designed for microgrids, which can make virtually no use of wind power at the moment, even when the wind is strong, because the logistics or visibility of a conventional wind power system are not an economically viable solution.

We’ve already received several letters of intent from microgrid developers with a sales volume in the double-digit million range. So we basically just need to complete development and can then sell immediately. These kinds of systems will also be available to farmers, companies in rural areas and private individuals with the necessary amount of space. We will then gradually develop systems in the 100 kW, 500 kW range and up to 10 MW kiteKRAFT systems in the megawatt range for grid feed-in and offshore wind farms.

Munich Startup: What does Munich mean to you?

Kitekraft: The Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the startup scene around UnternehmerTUM and programs such as Xpreneurs and Climate KIC are excellent. At the moment, we’re able to use the TUM infrastructure, i.e. office space, workshops and IT, through the EXIST Startup Grant. That not only saves costs, but also lots of time. That makes this location ideal. Without these benefits, we probably wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have.

Munich Startup: How will your startup become the next unicorn? Or will we be seeing you at an Epic Fail Night soon?

Kitekraft: We plan to scale up the Kitekraft systems in the lower kilowatt range in rapid succession into the megawatt range. The largest Kitekraft systems will be at least as big as the largest conventional wind power systems.

A unicorn is a startup that has a valuation of one million euros. That means an annual turnover of roughly 100 million euros. We would reach that with the sale of just 20 systems a year in the 10 MW category if you start with a price of 0.50 EUR/W (which is about half as expensive as a conventional wind power plant).

The next round of financing is on the agenda

It’s important to know that in Germany and globally, wind power is considered the backbone of energy supply from 100 percent renewable sources. That means the market is there for sales figures in much higher dimensions. Our investors are also aware of this potential, led by Y Combinator from Silicon Valley, which has already put forth several unicorns. Very soon, investors will once again have the opportunity to get on board, because we’re currently planning our next round of financing.

Munich Startup: Isar River or English Garden?

Kitekraft: After long days and nights of testing, tinkering, drilling, programming…both are great for recharging your batteries.

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