Alphabet abandons Makani’s energy-making kites project

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is quitting on its efforts to build and monetize Makani’s energy-making kites project, announced the general manager of this entity on Tuesday.

Founded in 2006 by a group of kitesurfers who were curious about the potential for kites to unlock wind energy in more places around the globe, the startup was bought by the internet giant in 2013 to be integrated into its laboratory dedicated to futuristic projects. A year ago, Alphabet had already decided to split Makani from the rest of its activities to see if the startup could stand on its own feet.

Makani Energy Kite
Makani Energy Kite

“Creating an entirely new kind of wind energy technology means facing business challenges as well as engineering challenges,” said Makani general manager Fort Felker on Tuesday in a post on Medium.

“Despite strong technical progress, the road to commercialization is longer and riskier than hoped, so from today Makani’s time at Alphabet is coming to an end,” he added.

The Makani kite-energy system is designed to generate electricity when flying at altitudes of up to one kilometer. It uses autonomous tethered wings that fly in a circular path and generates electricity via wind turbines mounted upon the main wing, a method known as crosswind kite power.

The electricity is transmitted via an electrical cable within the kite’s tether to a ground station. Lifting to the desired height does not require large expenditures of energy due to the lightness of the structure.

At significant altitudes, airflows are more stable in direction and speed. Due to this, the developers considered the flying wind turbines more efficient for generating electricity. At Alphabet, the development team managed to launch a 20 kW demonstration project, and later deploy it to an installation capable of producing up to 600 kW.

“This doesn’t mean the end of the road for the technology Makani developed, but it does mean that Makani will no longer be an Alphabet company. Shell is exploring options to continue developing Makani’s technology,” Felker said.

The company had already started in 2019 to collaborate with the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell to test its product off the coast of Norway. The energy specialist is also studying solutions to continue developing Makani’s technology, said Fort Felker.

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