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AWEC 2024 is happening this week in Madrid, so to close the run-up to the Conference, we wanted to dedicate an interview with Mark Schelbergen from TU Delft, one of these PhD students really enthusiastic on Airborne Wind Energy research and development that just got his PhD defense on “Power to the Airborne Wind Energy performance model: Estimating long-term energy production with an emphasis on pumping flexible kite systems”. On the other hand, has also experience attending and working on previous AWECs.

1. Could you give us a brief overview of your recent PhD defense?

It was a challenging defense! Many questions targeted aspects I had not considered as crucial factors and, therefore, did not reflect on extensively in my dissertation. For instance, I was asked about the uncertainty of the reanalysis wind data I used to analyze the wind climate. Above certain heights, measurements of the wind are scarce, so the general understanding of the uncertainty of this data – including mine – is limited. However, this data remains the best available for the analyses I conducted.

Overall, it was interesting to engage in a high-level discussion about my work. The discussion confirmed the relevance of my research topic. The intersection of meteorology and engineering will play a crucial role in the success of AWE, and it became clear that there is still ample opportunity for further investigation into this topic.

2. How do you think your research contributes to advance the field of Airborne Wind Energy?

I am very excited that Skysails has presented the first validated AWE power curve. This achievement marks an important milestone for the technology. As a next step, it would be interesting to gain a deeper understanding of the uncertainty associated with the power curve.

This is where my work becomes valuable. My research can help quantify how much of the uncertainty in the power curve is attributable to wind profile variability. Additionally, my work may offer insights into how power curves may vary from site to site, providing a clearer understanding of the performance and potential of AWE systems across different locations.

3. Could you share your insights on the major past EU projects AWESCO and REACH, and how they have influenced your work in AWE?

Both projects provided a great deal of inspiration and motivation.

I was very happy to be accepted as ‘fellow’ of the AWESCO programme. Bonding during meet-ups and exploring the intersections of our work was highly motivating. While working in the office, it’s easy to stay isolated as a PhD, but these meet-ups initiated knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Through the REACH program, I had the opportunity to work with Kitepower and its great team.  I made a lot of new friends and I was right between the people realizing the technology. The direct communication with Kitepower significantly enhanced the practical relevance of my work.

4. As a surfer yourself, how has your personal interest in wind-related activities influenced your research and approach to AWE?

In my free time, I enjoy surfing waves. Wave surfing doesn’t depend directly on the wind beyond the fact that waves are generated by the wind far off the coast. Still the wind brought me some good ideas while being in the water waiting for a wave. I would recommend it to everyone!

5. Winning the Open Science Award in 2021 is a significant achievement. Could you tell us more about the work that earned you this prestigious award and how open-source software has contributed to your research in wind energy?

I was very pleased to receive recognition for my efforts to make my work accessible to everyone. More specifically, I received the award for publishing the software I made during my PhD on public repositories. While a paper can sometimes be difficult to understand in detail, making my software publicly available allows others to easily reproduce my work and explore every aspect of my analyses. This open approach can greatly benefit research by facilitating collaboration and accelerating progress and, thus, also help advance the AWE field.

6. With your past involvements in several AWECs what are your thoughts on the current state and future potential of AWE technologies in the renewable energy landscape?

Although the Airborne Wind Energy companies have always been a bit cautious about sharing their progress, for me the most exciting part of attending AWEC has always been getting updates from the companies. I had hoped to see more significant advancements in AWE technology during the course of my PhD. I anticipate that during this year’s edition more technology advancements will be shown than before. With Skysails recently publishing their power curve, other companies will need to try hard to get in the spotlight as well.

8. How do you see the collaboration between academia, industry, and research institutions shaping the development and deployment of AWE systems in the coming years?

It can be quite challenging for a researcher to make a contribution that is adopted by the AWE companies. However, as the systems developed by the companies reach higher Technology Readiness Levels, I would expect that research is becoming increasingly important to the companies. As their focus will shift towards optimizing system performance, in-dept work of researchers becomes more relevant.

On the topic of my PhD: long-term performance modelling, I see a lot potential for research to make a significant contribution to the development of AWE. I think reliable calculations on the potential of AWE in comparison to conventional wind turbines can help to attract more venture capital and support industry growth.