Google aborts its ambitious wind energy project

Alphabet Inc. is closing Makani, a subsidiary that works in wind power, now that Google’s parent company reduces its experimental technology in favor of its core business, the internet.

Makani was formed in 2006 to make flying kites that would take advantage of wind energy and eventually replace the more expensive turbines. Google acquired the venture in 2013 and put the group in its X laboratory with other “shots to the moon”, such as driverless cars. Later, Makani became his own Alphabet unit. However, the initiative suffered personnel problems and decreased support from its parent company, which has withdrawn several green energy projects.

“Despite the strong technical progress, the road to commercialization is longer and riskier than expected, so from today Makani’s time in Alphabet is coming to an end,” wrote Fort Felker, executive director of Makani, in a blog post. Astro Teller, the head of X, said the lab will be “redirecting resources to more promising areas.”

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, which invested in Makani, said it is exploring options to use Makani technology. The Financial Times previously reported on the news of Makani’s end.

The economic fundamentals did not help Makani’s commercial odds. Since it began, the cost of wind energy has fallen dramatically, making it difficult to sell new clean energy technologies, explains Saul Griffith, one of the co-founders of Makani. “Very few people have been given the opportunity to jump fences with respect to climate change,” said Griffith, who now runs the energy company Otherlab. “This is something they should be proud of.”

Alphabet’s “Other bets” divisions include some bold projects, such as drones and life extension. During the last quarter, the company had capital expenditures of $86 million in those units, compared to Google’s $6.6 billion.

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