Alphabet subsidiary Makani is developing a wind-generating kite
Friday, January 04, 2019
“Go fly a kite” may soon have real-world positive outcomes rather than the derogatory statement it has been for years. If Google parent company Alphabet has its way, kites might be the future of the sustainable energy effort as one of its subsidiaries, Makani, is developing a concept known as an “energy kite.”
The kite looks more like a biplane with dual wings and a number of turbines that resemble propellers. The current version of the kite could generate up to 600 kilowatts of energy, which could power 300 homes.
West Hawaii Today recently reported that the kite, in development for more than a decade, uses “strong high-altitude winds to generate the energy the kite captures. While still in development, the autonomous flying robot-like plane collects energy from the wind and send it down to land for use via a tethering cable.”
“At the test site, the tether will ultimately extend approximately 1,400 feet — allowing the kite to make a full circle every 10 to 25 seconds. The operational area of the kite in flight was defined by the kite’s tether length,” the newspaper reported.
The kite will fly autonomously in loops to generate maximum power, also decided by the flight controller. As the kite loops, the wind will spin the rotors, driving onboard generators to produce electricity that will transfer down the tether and into the grid.
When the kite isn’t flying, it’s kept near the ground station. Its lightweight design — made mostly from carbon fiber and a bit of aluminum and titanium — makes the energy kite easy to transport and install. Two containers house power inverters for the research project.
The kite’s wingspan is 85 feet, and eight rotors spin in the wind to generate electricity.
The company's goal is to "build a new wind power technology capable of reaching altitudes not currently accessible to conventional wind turbines,” it said in a post on its site. The high-altitude kite means it can tap into winds that are stronger and more constant than the ones terrestrial wind turbines rely on.
“Regular wind turbines may be only 100 feet in the air,” a source told the newspaper. “Whenever you can get higher up in the sky, wind gets smoother and smoother, and eventually you get high enough up where you don’t have these turbulent ground effects anymore. This wind is stronger, more predictable and you can create greater amounts of electricity.”
Some of the thinking around the kite's lightweight design means it can be transported easily and can generate or restore power to regions affected by disaster or other causes. With this model for setup, the kite and its accompanying power can be moved easily without need to assemble a wind turbine or other power grid infrastructure.
There is no word as of yet from either Google or Makani about the viability of the technology or its industrial or commercial application, nor when it might be available for commercial use.
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