Google Buys Flying Wind Turbines

May 23, 2013 by Jeff Shepard

Makani Power, Inc. has been acquired by Google, Inc.. The Makani Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) is a tethered wing outfitted with turbines. It flies between 250 and 600 meters (800 and 1,950 feet), where the wind is stronger and more consistent. Makani is developing a 600 kW AWT, for utility scale generation at a cost below conventional solar and wind. The Makani AWT operates like a wind turbine. Air moving across the turbine blades forces them to rotate, driving a generator to produce electricity.

Due to its speed, the tip of a conventional wind turbine blade is the most effective part and is responsible for most of the energy produced. The Makani AWT takes advantage of this principle by mounting small turbine/generator pairs on a wing that itself acts like the tip of a traditional turbine blade. The wing flies across the wind in vertical circles, fixed to the ground by a flexible tether. With funding from the Depart­ment of Energy office of ARPA-E, Makani is currently testing a 30 kW prototype AWT, representative of the final 600 kW and 5 MW products.

“This formalizes a long and productive relationship between our two companies, and will provide Makani with the resources to accelerate our work to make wind energy cost competitive with fossil fuels. The timing couldn’t be better, as we completed the first ever autonomous all-modes flight with our Wing 7 prototype last week. Makani could not have reached this point without the support of the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program and the hard work of our talented team, past and present. We look forward to working with our new colleagues at Google to make airborne wind a cost-effective reality,” stated Don Montague, Makani’s co-Founder and CEO.

Makani has several products under development including the M30, a 30 kW, rapidly-deployable AWT suitable for disaster relief or off-grid energy production. This product is currently under development at Makani Power. The M600 is a 600 kW, midsize AWT developed for use onshore. Makani is at the beginning of a three year design, testing and commercialization process for the M600. A board of independent experts from the wind, aviation, manufacturing, and power development industries is advising Makani to ensure commercial readiness. The M600 will be installed in onshore wind farms on the strength of its siting flexibility, improved low wind performance and increased capacity factor.

The final goal of Makani’s development program is a 5 MW system, the M5. The M5 has a wingspan of 70 meters (230 feet) and will operate at altitudes between 250 and 600 meters (800 and 1,950 feet). The M5 is being developed specifically for deep water offshore applications.