It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s an 84-foot wind turbine.

September 8, 2015

Google X is on a mission to tap into the more consistent winds high above the planet’s surface. And, what better way to do it than to literally touch the sky.

Google’s latest acquisition, Makani Power, is showing great promise by producing large, kite-like turbine drones that make use of wind at higher altitudes.  Enough energy, according to Ken Caldeira of Stanford University, to “power civilization 100 times over.”

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Image Credit: Makani Power

These revolutionary wind turbines utilize lightweight electronics and advanced materials (such as carbon fiber and smart software) to generate energy at a lower cost and with less impact on the environment than traditional wind farms. The Makani wind turbine project has created large drones that are able to automatically launch themselves and adjust their altitude to take advantage of the best wind conditions.

Equipped with eight propellers and flying at 1,500 feet above the earth, they tap into a constant wind energy that enables them to drive internal turbines and send 600 kW of energy back to earth. Another advantage of the drone kites is that they are cheaper to build and require fewer materials than conventional turbines which make them more environmentally friendly.

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Image Credit: Makani Power

Coming in at a mere 84 feet, the drone kits are so much lighter and cheaper that Makani’s CEO, Corwin Hardham, claims they will soon be able to generate power for 3 cents per kilowatt hour.  To date they have only tested smaller, 28-foot, 8 propeller crafts—so the test of an 84-foot version, which may feature additional turbines and generating capacity, is a major development by the Google team.

Renewable energy expert Silvio Marcacci confirms, “A conventional 1-megawatt wind turbine can weigh more than 100 tons, but Makani’s airborne turbine only uses a carbon-fiber wing and lightweight rotors of their own creation. The company says its 1-megawatt airborne turbine system will weigh a tenth as much and have an installed price of half a normal turbine, but with the same rated power.” Makani claims that their energy kites generate 50% more energy while eliminating 90% of the materials used in conventional wind turbines.

And while the kite drones may pose a challenge for the FAA, they overcome the problems of expensive design, manufacture and construction costs that modern wind turbines currently experience…and no one will be complaining about having one in their backyard.