Ambitious solar project hopes to get airborne

The developers of an ambitious new technology which would see solar farms mounted on the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) more readily associated with drone strikes in the public consciousness, says the project could offer huge possibilities to solar companies worldwide.

Michael Burdett, director of UK start-up New Wave Energy UK, told pv magazine his company’s technology would open up huge untapped capacity for solar and wind developers and manufacturers through the construction of renewables projects above the world’s oceans.

New Wave’s patent pending UAV technology will ‘allow for large solar farms to be constructed with ease over the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans,’ said Burdett, who is aiming to raise GBP320,000 (US$518,000) to get the project – literally – off the ground through crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

Burdett wants to raise GBP170,000 for a prototype within six months with a further GBP30,000 allocated to patent costs, GBP40,000 for research and simulations and an GBP80,000 contingency fund for tax, fees and unexpected expenditure.

New Wave wants to develop a prototype that can be used to help in disaster relief efforts as well as demonstrating the technology’s viability.

In addition to the Kickstarter funding, the company estimates it will need around GBP32 million over five years of private funding and has opened talks with energy companies and other investors with a view to obtaining the initial slice of funding within 18 months.

Wireless energy transmission technology is established

The company is working Texas A&M University in the U.S. in relation to the wireless transmission aspect of the technology, which is already established having been developed to transmit energy to Earth from satellites.

New Wave is working with researchers at Leeds and Cranfield, as well as a third, unnamed, UK university to develop the project, with the first UAV set to be developed at Cranfield University.

Burdett told pv magazine New Wave has already approached solar companies to explore collaboration and the use of various generation technologies.

"We would prefer to use thin film technologies due to the weight limitations for a UAV but we are willing to consider silicon panels and CPV technologies as well," said the New Wave director.

Burdett added New Wave’s technology could also be used to construct solar farms above the world’s desert regions and he would be happy to work with the Desertec project, which aims to generate solar energy from the world’s desert and transmit it long distances to global energy demand centres.