Google Reels In Wind-Kite Firm Makani

May 23, 2013 - James Montgomery, Associate Editor -

New Hampshire, USA -- Extending its already deep reach into renewable energy, Google reportedly has acquired a startup and its flying-kite wind turbines that promise to tap better wind energy resources at higher altitudes with far lower costs and more efficient output.

Google, no stranger to clean energy as both a purchaser and investor of large-scale wind and solar power, reportedly has acquired Makani Power and its flying kite-design wind turbine, after years of being a major investor in the firm. Makani would be paired up with the Google X research labs, whose early-stage offspring include driverless cars and Google Glass. BusinessWeek's Brad Stone says Google CEO Larry Page finally approved the deal which was proposed a year ago, with the stipulation that they must "crash at least five of the devices in the near future" — presumably amid efforts to prove and improve the technology's performance and reliability.

We've looked at Makani and similar high-flying wind technology innovations in the past, but here's the Makani pitch in a nutshell: its Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) flies in a big circle within stronger winds at 800-2,000-foot altitudes, with rotors designed to act as both a turbine and as a propeller; direct-drive generators send electricity back down its tether to a ground station. The AWT could be reeled in and "perched" and then reeled out again during extended periods of low wind or bad weather, or for maintenance. It's especially well suited for deployment in areas less favorable to traditional tower-based designs, such as lower-wind-speed areas and offshore (especially deeper water).

Makani says the AWT delivers about twice the energy per unit of capacity than conventional turbines, producing power at half the cost, and using 90 percent less material. The company touts a cost of energy competitive with conventional wind in the best existing wind sites (e.g. Kansas), and less than half the price in other areas such as offshore. Individual power output is small; models tested so far are 30-kW with plans to scale up to 600-kW, but conceivably many could be strung to collectively produce a few megawatts.

Earlier this month the company completed its first fully autonomous flight of its Wing 7 prototype. "We look forward to working with our new colleagues at Google[x] to make airborne wind a cost-effective reality," Makani says in a statement on its Web site.