Makani Power, a start-up developer of high-altitude wind energy technology, has received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Products Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, and financial backing from big-time investors like Google. Now, the company has announced that it has won Popular Mechanics’ 2011 Breakthrough Innovator Award in the Energy Category. The Breakthrough Awards honor innovators whose work the magazine believes will “transform the world in years to come”.
Makani Power’s airborne wind turbines are unlike any other wind turbine you’ve ever seen. The device is designed to harness wind energy at high altitude (between 1000 and 2000 feet). The emerging market for high-altitude wind energy has its share of strange-looking machines, many of them resembling kites. But, according to Popular Mechanics, Makani’s turbine looks more like an airplane or helicopter. As the aircraft flies in circles on high-altitude wind currents, energy is generated by turbines on the leading edge of its “wing”. Electricity is then transmitted to the ground along a long tether, or “glorified string”.
To meet the demands of the unique turbines, Makani has also had to develop its own technologies in power generation electronics, tethers and ground systems. According to Makani, this technology can produce energy at cost that is competitive with coal-fired power plants. You can watch a video of a flight trial below.
Popular Mechanics’ Breakthrough Awards recognize the innovators and products that dramatically advanced the fields of technology, medicine, space exploration, automotive design, environmental engineering, and more. An entire list of all ten product winners can be found here.