Monday, January 16, 2012

Makani Power

In Hawaiian, makani means wind. It also is the new identity for, The Makani Airborne Wind Turbines, who was recently awarded $3 million from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, and has also received $20 million in funding from Google. They essentially resemble a fleet of mini airplanes that are launched when wind speeds reach 3.5 meters per second. Rotors on each blade help propel it into orbit, and double as turbines once airborne. The blades are tethered to the ground with a cord that delivers power to throw them into the sky and receives energy generated by the turbines to be sent to the grid-connected ground station. The wings take on a circular flight path once in the air (perpendicular to the wind’s direction – sometimes called the wind window for you kiteboarders out there!). Wind speeds can generally be twice as fast at altitude than near ground level as well, making airborne blades potentially more powerful than ground-based turbines. Their light weight material also makes them cheaper to produce than traditional turbines, and maintenance work can be performed on the ground. While these turbines have potential, they are still being tested. Makani plans to construct larger wings that can reach heights of 1,600 feet and power 600 homes. The company’s current timeline for the largest prototype is 2013, with hopes of starting commercial production two years later.

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