Google X Buys Airborne Wind Turbine Company Makani Power

by , 05/24/13

google x, makani power, renewable energy, wind turbine, airborne wind turbine, kite power, clean energy, Google

Google X, the tech giant’s top secret experimental branch, recently announced that it will take over Makani Power, a startup that develops wind turbines that fly through the air like a kite, rather than being mounted on massive poles cemented into the ground. The acquisition is just one of many significant investments Google has made into renewable energy technologies, and indicates that airborne wind turbines might soon be ready to move out of the experimental phase and into commercial reality.

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In case the term “kite power” gives you visions of Ben Franklin and the lightning storm, it’s important to point out that this kite-like system is far more sophisticated. Makani’s design consists of wind turbines mounted on unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft that are tethered to the ground (that’s where the kite part comes in). More accurately referred to as an Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT), the craft ascends to an altitude of 800 to 1,950 feet in order to take advantage of winds that are much stronger than anything feel here on the ground.

According to Makani, the design eliminates 90 percent of the material used in conventional wind turbines, and can access winds both at higher altitudes and above deep waters offshore — resources that are currently untapped. On-board generators create up to 600 kilowatts of electricity collected through dedicated turbines, which is then sent on to a tethered ground station.

Apparently, Google has been a long-time investor in Makani’s development of the airborne turbine, while also received support from the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program. The success of Makani’s test flights caught the attention of Astro Teller, the director of Google’s secretive research lab, and last February, he asked Chief Executive Officer Larry Page for permission to officially acquire the company. It’s one of the only known acquisitions by Google X, although there could be more.

+Makani Power
via Engadget

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  1. mikebarnard October 31, 2013 at 2:02 am

    Close assessment of Google’s Makani generation shows that they have serious challenges and shortfalls. Significant portions of the wind farm will likely have to be shut down for maintenance of individual units due to safety requirements. They will require dedicated remote land as safety requires preclude being near public roads or electrical lines, and the workers’ safety and insurance organizations will be unsupportive of anyone being in such a wind farm. They probably won’t work at all in winter conditions. And most tellingly, a Makani farm just won’t outperform much simpler and more robust HAWTs of equivalent scale in the same conditions. Conventional wind turbines can be interspersed among working farms, taking up 1% of the land and adding significant revenue to productive agricultural concerns; Makani’s can’t. It’s unlikely that onshore Makani farms of any scale or number will be built; offshore is only slightly more likely.

  2. Egalitare May 28, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Airborne wind just got a lot closer to commercial viability. Still some kinks to work out, but really big step!

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