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SkySails Group GmbH
Founded2001; 23 years ago (2001)
  • Stephan Wrage
  • Thomas Meyer
Number of employees
150 (2021)

SkySails Group GmbH is a Hamburg-based company that sells kite rigs to propel cargo ships, large yachts and fishing vessels by wind energy as well as airborne wind energy systems for electricity production from high-altitude winds.


SkySails Group GmbH is a successor company to SkySails GmbH, which was founded in 2001 by Stephan Wrage and Thomas Meyer in Hamburg.

The company, while technically successful at cutting shipping costs and carbon emissions, has faced economic difficulties.[1][2] Head of business development Henning Kuehl has said:

There's a structural problem slowing down the process: ship owners (who have to make the investment) often don't pay for the fuel – that's the charterer's duty. The charterer on the other side doesn't charter the ship for long enough a period to make low-carbon technologies pay back.

The lack of carbon emissions regulations for shipping and low fuel prices have added to these difficulties.[2]

In the weak economy of 2012, a time of low investment by shipping companies, the company laid off half of its 80 employees. On March 7, 2016, SkySails GmbH, as part of the SkySails Group, was forced to file for insolvency and was dissolved on April 5, 2016. Since then, SkySails Group GmbH, as the successor company, has continued business operations and has developed a further business area in the form of the SkySails Power division.

The company's headquarters are in Hamburg. The assembly of ground stations of the airborne wind energy systems takes place in Lower-Saxony.

Towing system for ships[edit]


An exhibition kite. Production kites have areas of hundreds of square meters.

The SkySails propulsion system consists of an automatically controlled foil kite of some hundreds of square meters, an electronic control system for the kite, and an automatic system to retract the kite.

The ram-air kite,[3] while 1-2 orders of magnitude larger, bears similarities to the arc kites used in kitesurfing. For multiple reasons, ram-air kites give many times the thrust per unit area of conventional mast-mounted sails. Additionally, a control pod is used rather than direct tension on multiple kite control lines; only one line runs the full distance from kite to ship, with the bridle lines running from kite to control pod. Power to the pod is provided by cables embedded in the line; the same line also carries commands to the control pod from the ship.[4]

The kite is launched and recovered by an animated mast or arm, which grips the kite by its leading edge. The mast also inflates and deflates the kite. When not in use, mast and deflated kite fold away.[4]

A conventional ship with a SkySails system burns less fuel, and has two propulsion methods, making it a type of hybrid vehicle. SkySails' kite propulsion from upper wind power is a traction use of high altitude wind power. Up to 100 million tons of carbon emissions every year could be saved by widespread use of SkySails technology, according to the International Maritime Organization.[2]

Other companies, such as California-based KiteShip, have built similar technology.[1]

Operational history[edit]

Maartje Theadora in port, showing a SkySails attachment arm on bow.

The Wessels Shipping Company (w:de:Reederei Wessels) entered into a partnership with SkySails to pilot and test the system on their ship MV Micheal A. in 2007. They then ordered further systems, the first of which was retrofitted to the MV Theseus (see image).[5]

MS Beluga SkySails was the first ship to be built to use the system, and the first using a production model. The 132 m, 10,000 tonne vessel was fitted with a 160-square-metre (1,700 sq ft) kite and launched 17 December 2007 and departed the northern German port of Bremerhaven to Guanta, Venezuela in January 2008.[6]

The ship completed its journey on 13 March 2008 after sailing from Germany to Venezuela, then to the United States, and ultimately arriving in Norway.[7] While the kite was in use, the ship saved an estimated 10-15% fuel, $1,000 to $1,500 per day.[6]

The annual savings in consumption on windy routes is on the order of about 5.5%, as determined by the EU-funded Life project WINTECC (duration four years).[8][9][10]

In early 2010, the company announced that it had sold one of its 160m² systems to be installed on the Maartje Theadora, the first application of the SkySails system on a fishing trawler. The vessel is described as Germany's largest fishing ship, and the kite is expected to reduce fuel costs on the runs to fishing grounds along the African coasts or the South Pacific.[11]

The systems save fuel, and reduce carbon emissions and shipping costs, but have not been widely adopted.[1][2]

Airborne wind energy systems[edit]

SkySails Power GmbH was founded in 2015 for the development of airborne wind energy systems. A pilot plant in Schleswig-Holstein has been in operation since the end of 2019.


Driven by the wind, the automatically controlled power kite rises in figures of eight. As it gains altitude, it unwinds a tether from a winch on the ground. The tractive force drives a generator inside the winch that produces electricity. Once the tether has reached its maximum extension of 800 meters, the autopilot steers the kite into a neutral position with minimal drag and lift. While consuming only a fraction of the energy generated before, the generator now acts as a motor and reels-in the tether.[12] The system continuously repeats this process, flying the kite at an altitude of 200 to 400 meters. Energy generated by the Airborne Wind Energy System can be fed into the grid, stored in batteries, or directly consumed.

Pilot project "SkyPower100"[edit]

The airborne wind energy unit in Schleswig-Holstein was built as part of the joint research project "SkyPower100", funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and involving SkySails Power GmbH, EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG, Omexom Renewable Energies Offshore GmbH and Leibniz Universität Hannover. From the operation of the airborne wind energy system, the consortium intends to gain knowledge for the further development and scaling of airborne wind energy systems as well as on environmental influences, safety aspects and licensing requirements. This includes, for example, expert opinions on noise emissions, avifauna and air traffic safety.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Skysails, Captain John Konrad, Mariners Weather Log, April 2009, Volume 53, No. 1, National Weather Service
  2. ^ a b c d Let's Go Fly a Kite – SkySails and Climate Change, by Deviyani Misra-Godwin, November 4, 2016, Technology and operations management course, Harvard Business School
  3. ^ "Power Kites that make the energy transition truly happen". SkySails Power. Retrieved 2021-04-18.
  4. ^ a b Airborne Wind Energy Systems, a review of the technologies, A. cherubini, A. Papini, R. Vertechy, M.Fontana, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 2015
  5. ^ "SkySails GMBH - WESSELS". Archived from the original on 2011-11-21.
  6. ^ a b Sanderson, Katharine (2008). "Ship kites in to port". Nature. doi:10.1038/news.2008.564. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  7. ^ "Kite-Driven Beluga Skysail Completes 12,000 Mile Journey and Proves Concept". Triple Pundit. 2008-03-14. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
  8. ^ Projekt WINTECC Layman's Report (3.1 SkySails-System) (PDF-file). Retrieved May 27, 2011 Archived March 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Skysails Performance Calculation (Operating days at sea). Retrieved May 27, 2011 Archived January 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Beluga Group, N-Series Main engine data - Speed & consumption HFO. Retrieved May 27, 2011 Archived January 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Fishing trawler will be powered by a 160m2 kite propulsion system". SurferToday. January 5, 2010. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  12. ^ Ambrose, Jillian (2021-03-16). "Good vibrations: bladeless turbines could bring wind power to your home". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-12-29.
  13. ^ "Joint research project: SkyPower 100". skypower100s Webseite! (in German). Retrieved 2021-12-29.

External links[edit]