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Airborne Wind Turbine

Makani Power
ARPA-E Award: 
Alameda, CA
Project Term: 
09/01/2010 to 10/16/2013
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Makani Power graphic
Critical Need: 
Renewable energy is critical to our environmental, economic, and national security. Demand for energy is on the rise, as is our national reliance on fossil fuel-based power plants for the bulk of our electricity generation. There is a drastic need for safe, clean, and cost-effective alternatives to coal, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal power. These technologies would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and help position the U.S. as a leader in the global renewable energy industry.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Makani Power is developing an Airborne Wind Turbine that eliminates 90% of the mass of a conventional wind turbine and accesses a stronger, more consistent wind at altitudes of near 1,000 feet. At these altitudes, 85% of the country can offer viable wind resources compared to only 15% accessible with current technology. Additionally, the Makani Power wing can be economically deployed in deep offshore waters, opening up a resource which is 4 times greater than the entire U.S. electrical generation capacity. Makani Power has demonstrated the core technology, including autonomous launch, land, and power generation with an 8 meter wingspan, 20 kW prototype. At commercial scale, Makani Power aims to develop a 600 kW, 28 meter wingspan product capable of delivering energy at an unsubsidized cost competitive with coal, the current benchmark for low-cost power.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, Makani Power's airborne turbines would provide clean power at a fraction of the cost of conventional wind turbines and enable the widespread use of renewable energy, resulting in significant reductions in CO2 emissions.
Increased availability of renewable power would help diversify the U.S. energy portfolio, allowing homeowners and businesses access to a grid that is less dependent on any one source of power.
Providing clean electricity would significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation. Presently, over 40% of U.S. CO2 emissions come from electricity generation.
Enabling alternative sources of energy like wind and solar can help stabilize and reduce the price of energy. This could result in significant cost savings over fossil fuels in the years to come.
Innovation Update: 
(As of May 2016)
With ARPA-E support, Makani advanced the design of its energy kite, which can access stronger, more consistent winds at altitudes of between 500 - 1,000 feet. Near the end of its ARPA-E project term, the team demonstrated the first fully functional flight of its Wing 7 prototype. Soon thereafter in May 2013, [X], formerly Google X, acquired Makani and began improving the technology for transition to a commercial product. [X]/Makani is increasing the power generation capacity of its Airborne Wind Turbine by 30x and is transitioning from hand-making the original prototype to mass production. The company’s commercial product will be based on a 600 kW unit designed to deliver cost-competitive power. 
During the team’s ARPA-E term, Makani focused on improving the reliability of the tether system and addressing the complex automated controls required for simultaneous flight control and capture of wind power. With ARPA-E’s support, the Makani team developed solutions to these challenges and demonstrated standalone lift off, hovering, and touch down of a 26-foot wingspan vehicle, along with delivery of 7 kW of power down the tether. Since [X] acquired the technology, the company has advanced its power systems for improved performance and reduced weight. The team anticipates that the technology will be used in utility-scale wind farms with multiple units. 
For a detailed assessment of the Makani team's project and impact, please click here.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Eric Rohlfing
Project Contact: 
Andrea Dunlap
Makani Power, Inc.
Release Date: