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Business Briefing

Google Buys Company that Makes Wind-Power Drones

Google Buys Company that Makes Wind-Power Drones
May 23, 2013 4:14PM

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"Google has long been interested in alternative power sources both for its own use and from a purely commercial point of view," said analyst Charles King. "The company was also an early Makani investor, so this new move could indicate that the company has succeeded in some way that would make its acquisition a competitive advantage for Google."

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The company that started in 1995 with a small search engine called BackRub and is now one of the world's leading tech giants is branching out into a technology few people spend much time thinking about, though it could one day have huge implications: harvesting energy from the sky through floating drones packing wind turbines.

Google is in the process of acquiring the start-up Makani Power, based in Alameda, Calif.,which was founded in 2006 by Corwin Hardham, Don Montague and Saul Griffith. Initial funding came from Google as part of its Renewable Energy is Cheaper Than Coal program, which Google started in 2007 but gave up on in 2011, while continuing to advocate for greener power in other ways.

Accelerated Work

Makani announced the Google deal on its Web site Thursday, shortly after the story broke via Bloomberg News. The amount of the deal was not disclosed as of Thursday afternoon.

"This formalizes a long and productive relationship between our two companies and will provide Makani with the resources to accelerate our work to make wind energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels," the company told Web visitors. "The timing couldn't be better, as we completed the first ever autonomous all-modes flight with our Wing 7 prototype last week."

Makani hopes the power generated from its flying turbines will eventually travel down tethers and contribute to the nation's electric grid without any greenhouse gas emission byproducts.

The unmanned aircraft hover between 800 and 1,950 feet, where the wind is stronger and more consistent, according to Makani, and the company is developng a 600-kilowatt airborne wind turbine (AWT) which it says will produce power more cheaply than conventional wind or solar sources. The work has been supported by the federal government.

"Makani could not have reached this point without the support of the US Department of Energy's ARPA-E program and the hard work of our talented team, past and present," the message continued. "We look forward to working with our new colleagues at Google[x] to make airborne wind a cost-effective reality."

Google [x] is the company's cutting-edge research and development lab, whose exact location is unknown. Google's self-driving car and augmented reality Glass headsets were born in its confines.

More Power to You

The United States is the second-largest producer of wind power, after China, but because of the variability of wind, it is generally not used to supply more than 20 percent of a grid's electrical supply.

Google's acquisition could indicate not just a vote of confidence in the process's future but the inevitability or awareness of a breakthrough.

"Google has long been interested in alternative power sources both for its own use and from a purely commercial point of view," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-It, told us.

"The company was also an early Makani investor, so this new move could indicate that the company has succeeded in some way that would make its acquisition a competitive advantage for Google."

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