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Kites: The future of wind energy?

Could kites hold the key to cleaner, cheaper energy? Italian company Kitenergy has developed technology that harnesses the power of high-altitude winds and converts it into electricity.

"Our machine works with a wing or a kite that flies at an altitude between 300 meters and 1,000 meters, linked with two ropes to the ground," Sebastiano Sella, CEO of Kitenergy, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.


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At heights like these, Kitenergy say, winds are stronger and more consistent when compared to the heights that conventional wind towers operate at. The company claims that the wind power available at 800 meters is roughly four times greater than for wind turbines operating at 80 meters.

Clean and sustainable, the potential of wind energy is considerable. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that wind energy is developing towards becoming a, "mainstream, competitive and reliable power technology."

A 2013 report from the IEA stated that wind power could generate as much as 18 percent of the planet's electricity by 2050, up from 2.6 percent.

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The mobility of the Kitenergy system is another key advantage, according to its team. "A mobile generator is capable to reach different locations, also over complex terrain," Gianmauro Maneia, an engineer at Kitenergy, said.

"This allows (you) to have energy in locations where there is huge need for energy but little chance to have it."

For Maneia, cost – as well as mobility – is important. "Our most recent flying test suggests that we can achieve a cost of energy of around 50 euros per megawatt hour," he said.

"This will be a relevant reduction compared to windmills - around 20 percent less in terms of cost of energy," he added.

It's not just Kitenergy that are looking to the heavens for greater energy returns from wind. Sustainable Energy spoke this year to Altaeros Energies, whose Buoyant Air Turbine (BAT) can operate at up to 600 metres high.

"Essentially what we're doing is getting rid of the tower and the foundation and replacing it with this lighter-than-air lifting platform, tether and ground station system," Ben Glass, CEO and CTO of Altaeros Energies, told CNBC.