Google eyes wind power with Makani acquisition

The prospects for high-altitude wind technology are looking a little more buoyant with the revelation that Makani Power has been acquired by Google[x], the semi-secret Google lab that’s dabbled in wacky stuff like driverless cars and wired eyeglasses.

Makani is the Bay Area startup, backed previously by both Google and the government through the ARPA-E program, that’s been pursuing an airborne wind turbine concept that uses a tethered airplane-like design.

image via Makani Power

Wild as the whole idea of getting wind power from 1,000 or so feet up in the air might sound, Makani isn’t the only player in the field; among others is Altaeros Energies, a company formed out of MIT that sends turbines skyward using a helium-filled, inflatable shell that looks like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float.

On its website, Makani said the deal with Google “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 company added that “(t)he timing couldn’t be better, as we completed the first ever autonomous all-modes flight with our Wing 7 prototype last week.” And here’s video of the tethered wing in action (note that the film is a compilation of several test runs):

The lure of higher-altitude wind power is simple: stronger, more consistent winds. Plus, Makani says that complex as its system appears, “It eliminates 90 percent of the material used in conventional wind turbines, and can access winds both at higher altitudes and above deep waters offshore.”

Sounds great. Now we might see if that lovely idea can be translated into real commercial use.

Pete Danko, EarthTechling