Google to Make Clean Energy More Accessible with Energy Kites

December 3, 2015 | Joanne Kennell

Circular Kite
Photo credit: A circular kite. Kees de Vos/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Is there anything Google can’t do?

Google is in the process of hiring people to build what they are calling “Energy Kites.”  They are not really kites per say, but more of a small airborne wind turbine attached to the ground by a tether.  Google bought Makani Power, the developer of the energy kites, back in 2013 in hopes of making clean energy more accessible in the future.

The energy kite consists of four parts: the kite, tether, ground station, and computer system.  Instead of turbine blades (the part of the turbine that makes most of the energy), the kite is made of composite material that simulates the tip of a wind turbine blade.  The kite is equipped with rotors that act as propellers on a helicopter to launch it into the sky where air flowing across the rotors drives a generator to produce electricity that flows down the tether to the energy grid.

SEE ALSO: Project Loon to Bring 4G-like Internet to the Developing World in 2016

So why go to all that effort to put a turbine way up in the air? The truth is, although ground turbines seem like the ideal solution to our energy troubles, less than 15 percent of our landscape is windy enough to power a turbine. The advantage of these kites over traditional wind turbines is that they can reach greater altitudes (260 – 1150 feet) where wind speeds are consistently high. And since they are so mobile, the computer system can use GPS and sensors to navigate the kite into the strongest and steadiest winds, maximizing the energy output.

Plus, the kites use 90 percent less material so they are cheaper, are more aerodynamic, and their small size could bring electricity to regions where access to energy is limited.

The energy kites are still in testing phase, but they are expected, once fully developed, to produce 600 kiloWatts of energy.  

This is not the first airborne project Google has tackled.  They have a separate project, Project Loon, that is working to bring Internet to the world using a high-tech helium balloons. I can’t imagine what Google will come up with next.

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