The crazy way Google X wants to bring clean energy to the masses

Makani energy kite Google Plus/MakaniMakani Power makes a wind turbine that functions like a kite, but looks like a small plane.

Google recently blew itself up and became a subsidiary under Alphabet, its new parent company.

With this reorganization, a lot of Google’s investments in moonshot ideas are now being managed separately — including all of the projects that are a part of its Google X division, which is a semi-secret lab that develops advanced technologies. 

One of the most ambitious projects that Google X has taken on during the last few years is making clean energy more accessible.

The tech giant purchased a wind turbine maker called Makani Power in 2013 and incorporated it into Google X to help with this endeavour.

But Makani doesn’t make your typical wind turbine. The Alameda, California-based company makes an airborne device it called an “energy kite” to generate electricity.

What is an energy kite?

An energy kite is a plane-like device equipped with rotors that flies around much like a kite does.

The kite’s full system is basically composed of four parts: The kite, a tether, a ground station, and a computer system.

The rotors on the kite help lift it off the ground, but once it is in flight the wind forces the rotors to act as individual turbines. The energy created by the spinning rotors powers an onboard generator, which then sends the created energy down a tether to a grid.

Mikani energy kiteGoogle Plus/MikaniA Makani energy kite rests on the ground station before launch.

Because the wind kite is light, it can fly at higher altitudes giving it access to stronger and steadier winds to generate more energy.

The energy kite’s tether is made of conductive wires and connects the kite to the ground station. The ground station is where the kite is parked when it is not in flight.

A computer system that combines GPS, sensors, and other advanced tech is used to guide the kite in a flight path that will generate the most electricity.

Is it better than a traditional turbine or windmill?

Energy created by traditional turbines depends on the length of the blade and the height of the tower. 

But building massive wind turbines with giant blades is challenging because they are expensive and take up a lot of space. Plus, there is a limited amount of land where these kinds of turbines can be built.

According to the Makani website, its kite system generates 50% more energy than traditional turbines and uses 90% less materials.


Unlike a large steel turbine, Makani’s kite system is made up of lightweight electronics and a flexible tether that allows it to fly at high altitudes capturing energy without all of the bulky infrastructure. The ground station is also a lot smaller than a traditional turbine tower, making them more appealing to landowners. 

What’s next?

Consumers shouldn’t expect to be powering their houses with this system anytime soon. Despite the company’s progress, Makani’s kite system is still very much in the early stages of development. 

Makani energy kiteGoogle Plus/MakaniMakani engineers perch the kite onto the ground station using a gantry crane.

That being said, the company has recently made some big strides in developing its technology. 

In May, the company began testing an 84-foot long kite model that can generate some 600 kilowatts of energy, according to the its Google Plus page. Previously, the company’s kite models were only 28 feet in length. 

Makani kite systemGoogle Plus/ MakaniMakani’s latest energy kite is 84-feet in length.

By increasing the length, the engineers are able to equip the kite with more rotors, thus creating more energy. 

But this model isn’t completely off the ground just yet. 

The company said it would begin testing the larger kite incrementally before flying it at its max height to ensure that everything works properly. 

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