What is Makani’s mission?

Makani is developing energy kites, a new type of wind energy technology that can access stronger and steadier winds at high altitudes to generate more energy with less materials.

How did Makani get started?

Makani was founded in 2006 by Corwin Hardham, Don Montague and Saul Griffith with the goal of developing a low-cost renewable energy solution using kite technology. Initial funding came from Google.org as part of its RE<C program. Makani joined X in 2013.

How is Makani’s energy kite different?

Makani’s energy kite operates on the same aerodynamic principles as a conventional wind turbine, but is able to replace tons of steel with lightweight electronics, advanced materials, and smart software. By using a flexible tether instead of a steel tower, an energy kite eliminates 90% of the materials used in a conventional wind turbine, resulting in lower costs.

How is an energy kite able to access winds in more locations than a conventional wind turbine?

Wind power systems are only viable in places that can generate enough power to offset costs. For conventional wind turbines, less than 15% of all the land in the world is suitable. Energy kites, on the other hand, can be economically sited in a wide array of locations, including sites that are too remote from roads, too hilly, or not windy enough for conventional turbines. In the continental United States alone, energy kites can generate wind power economically in over 66% of the landmass, more than four times the area available to conventional wind turbines.

How does the energy kite work?

The energy kite is launched from the ground station by the rotors, which act like propellers on a helicopter taking off. Once in the air, the energy kite generates power by flying in large circles where the wind is strong and consistent. Air moving across rotors mounted on the energy kite forces them to rotate, driving generators to produce electricity, which travels down the tether to the grid. The energy kite’s path is guided by the flight computer, which will use GPS and other sensors to make many thousands of calculations and adjustments to fly the kite in strong and steady winds.

How is the energy kite maintained?

The energy kite can land on the ground station, where it can be easily maintained.

Where will the energy kites eventually be installed?

It makes most economic sense for energy kites to be installed in wind farms similar to large, conventional wind turbines. However, since energy kites require less wind to make power and can reach stronger winds at higher altitudes, the wind farms can be sited in many more locations. Additionally, energy kites fly above topography that is typically unsuitable for conventional wind turbines, such as valleys.

How safe is the Makani energy kite?

We’ve designed our energy kites with safety as our top priority. There are multiple redundant computers, rotors and other components on the kite to ensure it can keep flying in the unlikely event that something stops working. During testing, we are monitoring the kite at all times. We are also extensively testing our kites for safety and reliability in controlled environments. In developing test sites and pilot projects, we make safety our top consideration, ensuring that operations will not create any risk to the local community.

How does the energy kite handle changes in wind and weather conditions?

If the wind slows down temporarily, the rotors that generate energy can become propellers to keep the kite aloft until the wind picks up again. If the wind stops altogether, the energy kite can be brought safely back to the ground station by the rotors, which act as propellers. During particularly extreme weather, the energy kite can rest on the ground station until conditions normalize, unlike conventional wind turbines which must be built robustly to withstand gale force winds.