Makani Power Inc.
Makani Power Inc.
News Article | February 27, 2009
NEW YORK--The solution to climate change boils down to industrial design, contends entrepreneur and inventor Saul Griffith. Griffith gave the keynote speech at the Greener Gadgets conference here on Friday where he ran through a flurry of numbers on energy and climate change to argue that the consumer electronics and IT industry needs to make drastic changes to curb its significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and several patents, Griffith's "day job" is president and chief scientist of Makani Power, a company backed by Google.org to generate electricity from kites flying at high altitudes. He also co-founded other ventures, including Optiopia, Squid Labs, Potenco, Instructables.com, and HowToons. Scientists are increasingly able to measure the carbon contribution of different activities and products. Having run the numbers on how much renewable energy can contribute to reducing carbon emissions, Griffith has concluded that the scale of industrial transformation is enormous. "This is a lot like retooling for World War II when the U.S. made 300,000 aircraft from 1939 to 1945," he said, adding that refrigerator and auto factories were converted during the war effort. "The reality is that we can do it. We made 10 terawatts of power generation over the last 40 years. We need to do it again, a little quicker, but we have to do it radically different--not with pipelines and fossil fuels this time." The area of consumer electronics, in particular, needs to make a radical shift from products that are replaced every few months or years to what Griffith called "heirloom" products, like a Mont Blanc pen or Rolex watch that lasts decades. Long-lasting products have a significantly lower embedded carbon footprint, he said. "We need to give products to consumers with one-tenth the power consumption and that last ten times as long," Griffith said. "That implies service economies (for refurbishing or repairing products). Those will be the business models of the future." By exactly accounting for carbon emissions in his personal life, Griffith found that "stuff" that he owned was almost 14 percent of his total carbon footprint in 2007, which was pushed higher than the U.S. national average because of extensive flight travel. After his talk, Griffith said that creating long-lasting products is significantly less polluting than recycling and take-back programs. "Recycling gets you maybe halfway there...but (designers) need to get out of their head that recycling is the full solution." Asked how long-lasting products could possibly stay current in the fast-changing technology industry, Griffith said that the "cloud," or the Internet, could provide updates to chips and devices like cell phones. Videoconferencing His talk was a reprise of the one he first gave last year, where he crunched the numbers on his personal carbon footprint and calculated how much energy people need to consume daily to keep carbon concentrations at 450 parts per million. There is debate how much is an acceptable level of carbon concentration in the atmosphere, but Griffith picked 450 parts per million--corresponding to a 1.5 to 3.5 degree Centigrade temperature increase--because it could avoid the "list of horrors," such as mass species extinctions and destruction of coral reefs. The level before the industrial revolution was 290 ppm and is now between 380 ppm to 390 ppm, he said. "We can measure all these things now--carbon dioxide, energy, toxics--and the fact that we know the consequences will put a huge amount of pressure on the consumer electronics industry." Perhaps the most important technology to reducing personal carbon footprints is videoconferencing, which would allow people at work to avoid polluting air travel, he argued. After his talk, he said that designers have shown the ability to make more carbon-friendly products. But what's lacking is a deep-seated understanding of sustainability across the entire industry's supply chain. "What we don't know how to do is design for complex, closed ecosystems where you have to consider all aspects. There are just no companies that are good at system engineering and sustainability design," he said. Updated at 1:20 p.m. PT with corrected language in quotation.
News Article | August 25, 2008
Google.org seems to share its founders’ passion for wind sports. The philanthropic arm of the search giant has invested another $5 million into high-altitude wind startup Makani Power, PEHub reports. The money is part of a series B round that could garner more than $20 million for the Alameda, Calif.-based startup. The company had previously raised $10 million from Google in a series A round in 2006. Not much is known about the stealthy startup, which has said it is “designing membrane structures to cover large areas of the sky,” and boasts a large amount of kite designers on its team. Founded in 2006 by Saul Griffith and former World Cup windsurfer Don Montague, the company has nearly 30 employees, many of them also kitesurfers. By putting a kite or similar structure up 5 to 10 kilometers in the air the company could tap the strong winds at high altitudes. The power of wind is related to the cube of its velocity, meaning you can get way more energy out of faster blowing wind. One of the most attractive things about high altitude wind is its consistency. Griffith said at the Fortune Green Conference earlier this year that, while traditional wind is only 33 percent reliable, high altitude wind could provide utilities with an energy source that is 75 percent dependable, making it far more viable as a base-load energy source. While Makani has been very quiet about its “science project,” as Griffith described it to the San Francisco Chronicle, he added at the conference that the company has collected data from more than 200 test sites. This is the third cleantech investment we’ve seen from Google.org’s Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal campaign this summer. Last month, the search engine turned cleantech investor made a play into transportation, with investments in electric car maker Aptera and battery developer ActaCell. And just last week, Google.org announced $10.25 million in geothermal energy investments.
News Article | June 17, 2013
Google has long invested in some unusual ways to get Internet access to remote places and its balloon-powered Internet access trial, dubbed Project Loon, is no exception. But Project Loon is also the latest example of how Google’s greater interests of getting everyone connected align with the unique requirements of clean power. The balloons that will be used in Project Loon will be powered by 100-watt solar panels, and Google says that Project Loon will be completely charged with renewable sources. On the Project Loon website, it says: Each unit’s electronics are powered by an array of solar panels that sits between the envelope and the hardware. In full sun, these panels produce 100 watts of power — enough to keep the unit running while also charging a battery for use at night. By moving with the wind and charging in the sun, Project Loon is able to power itself using only renewable energy sources. This isn’t the first time that Google has turned to small, distributed clean power generation to connect up remote internet access. About five years ago, Google had a plan to build out floating data centers that could use wave power as an energy source. These data centers could be deployed to remote, or even conflict, zones to boost internet access in places that need it. Many of the planned city-wide WiFi deployments of yesteryear, which used routers propped up on street lights and utility poles — Google was a big supporter of them– used solar panels as a constant power supply. MuniFi didn’t work out as expected, but the concept is the same as Google’s Project Loon. Solar in particular has long been important to Google. Its headquarters had one of the first large corporate solar rooftops when it was built back in 2007, and it has invested in many solar panel projects that could power its data centers throughout the world. Wind power is also a big interest of Google’s. Recently Google’s moonshot lab Google X acquired high-altitude wind startup Makani Power, which has built out kite-powered wind turbines that draw power from the wind hundreds of meters off the ground. Project Loon could also possibly be using micro wind generators that create power, as it hints at tapping into wind for power, but Makani’s turbines spin around a long tether (whereas Project Loon’s wireless routers float along on balloons). Beyond distributed, micro clean power generation (think solar panels on roofs), Google is also interested in large centralized clean power (picture a huge solar or wind farm in the desert). Google has invested over a billion dollars into huge clean power projects like wind and solar farms in the deserts, and is using these types of farms to add clean power for its data centers in remote areas. Small solar panels and micro wind turbines are also playing an important role in bringing internet access to developing areas in India and Africa where there’s no grid. People are using their cell phones for internet access, and are using solar panels to charge their cell phones. At the end of the day, getting internet access to everyone on the globe — either by powering data centers, powering the routers themselves, or powering the smart devices that will connect to the internet — will require flexible power generation options. The centralized coal and natural gas plants that are providing grid power to much of the developed world won’t work in the remote locations that are not yet connected. Because Google is so interested in this concept of connecting everyone, it’s doing these more unusual trials and introducing wacky services like Project Loon. While Project Loon might end up being just too loony to work, the clean power option it’s using isn’t wacky at all and will be the answer to bringing the internet to the ends of the earth.