Final Report: Kite Power for Namibia, Africa

EPA Grant Number: SU833520
Title: Kite Power for Namibia, Africa
Investigators: Olinger, David J. , Alex, Lauren N. , Baldiga, Jonathan D. , Baldwin, Gabriel Photeos , Bertoli, Peter Michael , Buckley, Ryan Patrick , Colschen, Christopher Michael , DeCuir, Michael George , DeStefano, Eric R. , Fekete, Luke , Gary, Scott C. , Hurgin, Max vonGal , Krisnaswamy, Deepa , LaLonde, Taylor A , Lovejoy, Erik J. , Partington, Wayne Robert , Phaneuf, Joseph B. , Sangermano, Michael Joseph , Simone, Nicholas William , Urko, Nicholas Stephen
Institution: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2007 through August 31, 2010
Project Amount: $9,995
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


In Phase I Worcester Polytechnic Institute collaborated with Heifer International’s Overlook Farm to design, build, and test a working, full-scale (one-kilowatt) Wind Power from Kites demonstrator in order to create a new renewable energy technology.

Two billion people in developing nations currently live in a perpetual blackout without access to electricity. In particular, in Namibia, Africa over 60% of the population lack this basic resource. Access to sustainable and dependable electric power would help these people prosper by alleviating the most basic inequities.

The technical challenge that we sought to address in our Phase I work was to develop the Wind Power from Kites concept in order to retain the advantages of wind power while addressing certain disadvantages of using wind turbines. Using large kites to extract power will be;

  • Low-cost – anticipated 50% cost savings over wind turbines
  • More environmental – kites are nearly invisible and will not kill birds
  • More economical – since kites can fly higher than turbines can operate kites can access higher wind speeds and produce more power

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The Phase I WPI Kite Power Team consisted of eleven WPI students, Dr. David J. Olinger (PI), Dr. Jitendra of the Rohm and Haas Company, and Dale Perkins of Heifer International’s Overlook Farm. The work of the WPI Kite Power Team was completed in two student projects, a senior design project and a junior-level project that focused on the societal and educational aspects of kite power.

The team designed, constructed, and field tested a working, one-kilowatt scale kite power demonstrator (Figure) which is based on using a rocking arm to convert the up-and-down motion of a large kite into usable electric power. The demonstrator consists of the following sub-systems;

  • A large kite (100 square feet) and control tethers
  • A rotating arm structure
  • A kite control mechanism
  • A kite angle of attack change mechanism
  • A power conversion mechanism
  • An electrical system that converts rotating shaft motion into useable electricity and stores it in a battery bank

The WPI Kite Power Team also worked on societal and educational aspects of the project for their junior year IQP project, focusing on the questions -What is the best way to educate the general public visiting Overlook Farm about the need for a low-cost wind power system in developing nations? How to best describe the operation of the demonstrator and its potential impact on progress and sustainability in developing nations? To answer these questions the team developed;

  • A dynamic simulation and virtual animation of the kite power demonstrator
  • A simple scale-model replica of the demonstrator.
  • The WPI Kite Power Team Wikisite Exit .

The project team advanced the state-of-the-art of a new, renewable energy technology. Initial field testing of the entire kite power demonstrator has been undertaken. This testing has confirmed that the wooden structure and rocking arm can withstand the structural loads created by the kite. By the date of the 4th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo we also plan to have completed additional testing of the kite power demonstrator where we generate electrical power for short time intervals. Our Phase I work should be viewed in light of the fact that, to the best of our knowledge, only two other teams working on kite power have developed a working smaller-scale kite power system that produces usable power.

The WPI students and the PI worked extensively with the two external partners; Heifer International’s Overlook Farm Learning Center and Dr. Jitendra Goela (technical consultant). A major impact of our Phase I work will be the incorporation of the demonstrator into Overlook Farm’s educational programs. Overlook Farm is a living museum dedicated to helping the general public gain new understanding of the causes of poverty through interactive demonstrations of sustainable solutions used in developing nations. We plan to permanently install the kite power demonstrator at Overlook Farm by October 2008 for viewing by the general public. Dr. Goela reviewed the student’s work and also published a technical paper with the PI on small-scale kite power system modeling.

Figure 1.


Figure 2.

a)   b)

Figure 3.


Figure 4.

c)   d)

The WPI kite power demonstrator. b) Kite control mechanism and angle-of-attack mechanism. c) Power conversion mechanism. d) Electrical system.


The Phase I project of the WPI Kite Power Team was very successful. The project team completed the proposed Phase I tasks, undertook original, innovative design work, and then built and tested the full-scale Wind Power from Kites Demonstrator. The Phase I work shows that kite power is a feasible, renewable energy concept.

Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies:

The challenge definition for our Phase II work is to build on the development work on the kite power demonstrator in Phase I in order to fully realize the implementation of a kite power system at Overlook Farm (Year 1) and in Namibia, Africa (Year 2). The Phase II WPI Kite Power Team will continue to innovate to create a new renewable energy technology.

There is a need for low-cost electricity in Namibia. Two out of three Namibians currently do not currently have this basic resource. Many of these impoverished people live in informal settlements that consist of improvised dwellings (Figure). Wind has great potential in Namibia, especially near the coast. The final goal of the Phase II work will be to establish a kite power site at an informal settlement near Lüderitz, Namibia. (Figure).

Figure 5.
Map of Namibia, Africa. b) An informal settlement in Namibia.

The specific goals of the Phase II work are to;

  • Continue to develop and refine the kite power demonstrator and build a 2nd kite power system for Namibia. (Year 1, 2)
  • Have WPI gain experience with operating a wind power from kites system in a rural, off-the-grid setting at Overlook Farm as a precursor to application in a developing nation (Year 1, 2)
  • Develop an instrumentation/data acquisition system to measure power output, rotating shaft rpms, tether tensions, and rocking arm angles on the demonstrator. (Year 1)
  • Develop a portable wind monitoring system to measure wind velocities on site at Overlook Farm, other field testing sites, and eventually in Namibia. This wind monitoring system will be used at Overlook Farm in Year 1 and moved to Namibia in Year 2 where it will be installed permanently. (Year 2)
  • Continue to improve the state-of-the-art in simulation of kite power systems, focusing on effect of unsteady winds, kite buoyancy, and better aerodynamic modeling of the kite. (Year 1, 2)
  • Research energy needs of people in informal settlements in Namibia, Africa; identify and evaluate the first kite power site in Namibia partnering with the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) and WPI’s Namibia Project Center. (Year 1, Year 2.)
  • Install and implement a one-kilowatt scale kite power system and wind measurement system at an informal settlement near Lűderitz, Namibia. (Year 2).

The sequence of projects that that culminates in a kite power system in Namibia will be conducted as part of WPI’s Global Perspectives Program (GPP). WPI is recognized as the leader in global technological education among American colleges and universities. One of the Phase II student projects (in 2010) will take place at the WPI Namibia Project Center in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. We will collaborate with an existing WPI partner, the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) through the WPI Namibia Project Center to establish our first kite power site in Namibia. The WPI NPC has an existing partnership with the DRFN (since 2003), and has completed WPI student projects with DRFN every year since that time.

The team will also continue its work with Heifer International’s Overlook Farm so that the Phase I kite power demonstrator becomes a research and development test bed for continued improvement of the Power from Kites concept. This will also allow WPI to gain experience with operating a kite power system in a rural, off-the-grid setting as a precursor to using kite power in Namibia. The team will also continue its work with Dr. Jitendra Goela, of the Rohm and Haas Company, who will again serve as a technical consultant on the project.

The proposed Phase II work will continue to maximize the benefits of the P3 Award Program by extending P3 concepts beyond the university setting to the general public and a developing nation through the collaborations with Overlook Farm, WPI’s Global Perspective Program, the WPI Nambia Project Center and the DRFN.

Supplemental Keywords:

Renewable energy, sustainable development, innovative technology, engineering,

Relevant Websites: Exit Exit Exit Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2008
  • 2009