Four hundred meters 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. Hardham says:
“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. He says he realized that with very light materials it would be possible to capture the stronger, more consistent winds found at higher altitudes.
“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. Using that data, it’s 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. It doesn’t need to actually interact with something on the ground.”
Hardham and his team are still in the development stages. Their current prototype is about eight meters long and produces 20 kilowatts of power. Within three years they plan to build a wing that can produce 60 times more. Hardham says:
“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’s about 250 American homes you can power with just one of those wings. And eventually, we’ll build a wing that is about five megawatts and that’s about as large as any wind turbines being built today.”
Hardham has very high hopes for his wing technology. He believes that in 10 years, thousands of Makani wings could be flying above the U.S. coastline, replacing fossil fuels to power millions of homes with clean, sustainable energy.