Are Kites the Future of Wind Power?

California-based startup Makani Power believes the future of clean, sustainable energy is in the skies. The company is developing kite technology they say harnesses wind power far more efficiently and at half the cost of current wind turbines in use today.


400 metres above the ground, the Makani wing is undergoing a flight test. It may resemble a giant kite, but according to its designer Corwin Hardham, it’s the future of wind power.

Hardham says the wing works on the same principle as a conventional turbine, converting the kinetic energy of wind into electricity by spinning rotors. The electricity generated is sent to a base station via a power line that doubles as a flexible tether for the wing.

Corwin Hardham, CEO of Makani Power: “We can produce power at a much lower cost than conventional wind turbines both onshore and especially offshore. And more importantly we can access winds at higher altitudes that are virtually untouched at this point.”

Hardham came up with the idea while kite surfing in San Francisco Bay. He says he realised that with very light materials it would be possible to capture the stronger, more consistent winds found at higher altitudes. He says the goal is to develop a wing that can produce electricity a lot more efficiently and at about half the cost of a conventional wind turbine, without the need for daily human oversight.

Corwin Hardham: “It has GPS onboard as well as a host of other sensors that enable it to measure its angle, orientation, and several other streams of data and using that data it is able to predict where it should fly to make the most energy, how to make it fly most reliably, so it uses the minimal amount of effort on its servos and also take off and land. It does not need nor do we ever plan to actually interact with something on the ground.”

Hardham and his team are still in the development stages. Their current prototype is about 8 metres long and produces 20 kilowatts of power. Within three years they plan to build a wing that can produce 60 times more.

Corwin Hardham: “What we plan to do is build a wing that is about three times larger than this and that one will generate about 600 kilowatts. So just as a reference that is about 250 American homes you can power with just one of those wings. And eventually we will build a wing that is about five megawatts and that is about as large as any wind turbines being built today.”

Hardham has very high hopes for his wing technology. He believes that in ten years time, thousands of Makani wings could be flying above the U.S. coastline, replacing fossil fuels to power millions of homes with clean, sustainable energy.

Story by Ben Gruber, Reuters.

Video Update: Saul Griffith’s TED Talk on how kites tap wind energy

In this 5 min video, Saul Griffith unveils the invention his new company Makani Power has been working on: giant kite turbines that create surprising amounts of clean, renewable energy.

Inventor Saul Griffith looks for elegant ways to make real things, from low-cost eyeglasses to a kite that tows boats. His latest projects include open-source inventions and elegant new ways to generate power.

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