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The Convenient Truth

A story about a group of windsurfers that will change the world


TABLE OF CONTENTS Table of Contents.....................................Page 4 Foreword.....................................................Page 8 Chapter 1.....................................................Page 12 Chapter 2.....................................................Page 18 Chapter 3.....................................................Page 22 Conclusion..................................................Page 26 Dedication...................................................Page 28 Work Cited...................................................Page 30


Makani Tower


I N T R O D U C T I O N tWithout energy, we are nothing. Energy allows us to live. Energy allows us to move. To work. However, we cannot picture this energy, or even know what exactly it is. We can make energy. We can use it. We can make energy in an abundant amount of ways. Some ways are more efficient than others. One method could be more beneficial to the environment than another. Humans have depended on fossil fuels as an energy source for decades. Fossil fuels damage the environment because they are so rich in carbon dioxide, polluting the atmosphere and causing global warming. Just recently, we have begun to understand the consequences resulting from the heavy use of fossil fuels.

Many companies want to fix this problem and create a clean alternative energy source to supply power efficiently.

Windmills are an effective way to gather energy, but they take up tons of land and cause damage to nearby wildlife. Also, the more consistent and stronger wind is located over the ocean. Makani Power has developed a flying turbine that would fly over the ocean, anchored to a buoy. This addresses the problems the windmills faced and allows the vacant air to be utilized. Makani’s plan is half the cost of windmills and generates double the energy of a windmill. Also, Makani’s ability to be located in the water allows a lot more flexibility of the location, avoiding any sensitive environmental regions. Corwin Hardham, Don Montague, and Saul Griffith founded Makani Power in 2006, and received funding from Google and ARPA-E. Since then, Makani has gone through several designs of their AWT, Airborne Wind Turbine, and received the Popular Mechanics 2011 Breakthrough Award.


Makani’s first design

Panaroma of Makani Airfield

The smoggy cityscape


Makani’s headquarter is located in Alameda with a breathtaking view of the bay and the cityscape. Their airfield where they test a lot of their desgins have been used by Tesla, and is where Mythbusters do a lot of their crazy experiments.



I was first introduced to Makani in 2008 when my dad invited me to visit Makani’s headquarters in Alameda, and

watch one of their test flights. I did not know what to expect but highly anticipated what I was about to see. I wasn’t even sure what Makani was or why my dad was involved, but I was hyped to find out.

I arrived and parked on a big airfield with a scenic view of the city and was surrounded by big cargo ships and

sailboats. As I made my way over to the entrance of the building, a bright cherry red fire truck hoisting ropes and cables connected to some airplane-like model.

After talking to Makani’s team, I learned that there goal was to harness the wind power in the air and turn it into

energy. I thought to myself, “Don’t we already have these? They are called windmills.” What I did not know was that Makani’s design addressed the problems windmills faced. These problems included environmental damage, inconsistent jet streams.

I truly learned about Makani during this project, and I am amazed of what Makani has accomplished and all the

work and dedication they have put into their goal of replacing fossil fuels.


a three-beam structure held together with the string. At the right tension, you can strum the strings, making noise.


T h e

Mark Hartney Mark is the project manager at ARPA-E, a funder of Makani power.


T e a m

Damon Vander Lind Damon is the chief engineer at Makani. He is responsible for the designs.

Andrea Dunlap Andrea has been Makani’s archivist since the beginning. She documents the progress of Makani.

A close up on a propeller on Makani’s current design


C h a p t e r 1 : T h e A p p l e o f a l t e r n at e e n e r g y

The very first time I visited Makani, I did not know what to expect. All I knew was it was a company my dad was

funding and they worked on alternate energy. As we approached their office building, actually an old control tower at a naval base, I became surrounded by open runways for miles. We drove onto the runway and met up with the crew behind the flying turbine. There was a cherry red fire truck and an old army truck linked together with tangled wires and rope. In the middle of all this there was a carbon fiber plane, or the Airborne Wind Turbine, AWT for short. Watching the AWT fly around, knowing the repetitive circular motion could generate more energy than a windmill, was simply astonishing.

After a close look at Makani’s design and a test flight, I’ve been interested in Makani’s journey to develop their

turbine and begin stationing them. The second time I came up to meet with the Makani team, we rendezvoused at a beach in Alameda. They brought kites to kitesurf and to fly on the beach. This was where Makani actually started: they manufactured kites for kitesurfing.


Makani is very much like Apple, because both companies were in a field that has been around for awhile, but

invented something that proved to be very revolutionary. Makani was formed in 2006, in an era where alternative energy already existed, but was a primary concern due to issues like global warming. Makani’s turbine is very sleek and 100-percent hand crafted with carbon fiber that is molded at their workshop in Alameda. Apple is commonly known for their simple, yet intuitive designs, which is like Makani, since Makani really focused on keeping their AWT as straightforward as possible without compromising efficiency and functionality.

Since Makani formed in the middle of the clean energy era, they had the opportunity to look at previous designs and

see what worked and what didn’t. Makani saw how the better wind quality was over the oceans, so they based their concept to be an ocean based turbine. Apple’s first computer came out in 1985, four years after the Xerox Star, the first commercial computer.

In 2006, along with the formation of Makani Power, Al Gore released his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, raising

awareness of global warming. This was the wake up call to society to take a step back and look at all the damage we have done to the environment in the last couple of decades. “Global warming, along with the cutting and burning of forests and other critical habitats, is causing the loss of living species at a level comparable to the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago” (Gore). This comparison to the jurassic era depicts the dire consequences we might face if we continue to use the amount of fossil fuels we use today. Although we might not have another extinction event, like Gore warns us of, we are at risk for rapid changes in the environment. 13

Makani’s design


A 1:18 scale of Makani’s proposed design for commercial use.


A close up of a propeller of an AWT in the workshop


Makani’s workshop has everything you need to make anything you want. They have a high speed water jet to cut through metals. A plethora of drill bits including high speed steel so the bits don’t break. Makani also turned a storage container into an oven to heat wrap carbon fiber.


C h a pt e r

2 :

M a k a n i

S e t s

S a i l

Saul Griffith, Don Montague, Corwin Hardham, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin were the main people behind

the start of Makani. Two of the five people are billionaires and co-owners of Google. The other three, Saul, Don, and Corwin were friends of Larry and Sergey and would all kitesurf together. “Everyone was like wow there is so much power we can feel it, its intoxicating. We want to pull more things like lets pull boats. And the founders of google were like well thats great but, what we really need is renewable energy. How can we translate the strength of wind power into energy” (Andrea). This was the beginning of Makani’s journey to generate energy with kites. Initial funding came from Google as part of the RE<C program, and later in 2010, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA-E, would help funding.

ARPA-E’s funding of Makani was a long and tedious process. Mark Hartney, who was one of the people

working at ARPA-E, saw the potential in Makani and really pushed for the funding of Makani. They came in as 1 of about 4,000 proposals we got in the first round, and we screened those out and took about 400 that got full proposals, and they were one of those, and they came into a review panel, and the panel was kind of skeptical at first, because they weren’t sure this was technology that would really work, but I really liked and I pushed really hard to get it to be one of the projects we selected. It actually didn’t get selected at the very first round, but after we went through a couple of other rounds of funding proposals, we had a little bit of money left over, and we decided to go back and look at some of the proposals we liked, and that was one I really liked, so I spent some little time with the company and in the meantime, I was able to persuade my colleagues and persuade the director that this was a program to fund. (Hartney) 18

Since Makani’s formation, Makani has been featured all over the news and media. Makani has been on

CNN, Discovery Channel, Nature Magazine, National Geographic, New York Times and a lot more. Damon Vander Lind, the chief engineer, believes the publicity has greatly benefitted the growth of their company. He stated that, ”it gets a lot of enthusiastic engineers and it lets them know about the company” (Vander Lind.) Another effect from Makani’s publicity is that other small start ups can feel a sense of hope because Makani once was a small company that is now making it big.

The constant progression of Makani promises big success in the later years of their journey and plans to

commercialize and mass produce is definitely a topic Makani has addressed. Makani’s goal is to replace a large portion of fossil fuels. Since fossil fuels are so heavily used, replacing a large portion requires a lot of turbines. Makani is currently expanding and creating prototypes that will eventually go into mass production. The airborne wind turbine is designed to be up in the air for several weeks to months, and Makani is actively working on increasing the duration of the flight.

Corwin, the CEO of Makani who was a lighthearted man, and an avid kite surfer, and pioneer of wind

energy, passed away in October of 2012 at his office for unknown reasons. The team admired his vision and his commitment to the project, and his ability to diffuse stress on the people around him. He had the mindset where you just had to try things out to see if it worked, and this is what made Makani so unique: an idea that wasn’t guaranteed to work, but was worth a shot. Corwin Hardham 1974-2012


M a k a n i ’s s p o n s o r s

A full two-page spread article about Makaniâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s design


C h a p t e r

3 : W h y

M a k a n i

wor ks

To generate an effective amount of energy, the design must be very intuitive. This is where Makani truly

excels. They hand-build all their parts right at their workshop and then put them to the test at the airfield right outside. Jesse H. Ausubel argues that, “in order for renewables to contribute meaningfully to energy production, they would use up vast amounts of land and cause serious environmental damage” (Ausubel.) Makani addressed this problem by putting their AWT’s over the water, where they don’t disrupt the environment back on land and have access to the jet streams above the ocean which are more consistent and stronger.

Conventional wind turbines have a limit on how high they go, but makani’s AWT doesn’t, since it is at-

tached to a cord that transfers the energy generated from the turbine to the base structure. The three propeller tips on the AWT allow triple the efficiency of gathering the wind. This tri-propeller design also cuts 30%-40% of the cost to generate electricity from the wind another strength of Makani’s design.


Makani’s goal is to replace a large portion of fossil fuel generation, but this requires a commercial scale pro-

duction which can be challenging. Makani took this into consideration because they based all of their components off already existing components that had factories in the U.S. This means when Makani is ready to mass produce they can build their turbines in existing factories, eliminating the need to build new factories. These factories could supply Makani include technology for ” building rigid sails for the americas cup or building boeing wings or building a wind turbine blade or a propeller; those same people could be put to work to build airborne wind turbines” (Dunlap).

Makani’s AWT compared to a windmill


The base to hold the AWT

A close up of the gears & motors of the base

24 safety string for test flights The

A propeller on the workshop bench


C o n c l u s i o n

When Makani was first selected by ARPA-E, it was not an easy process. Mark Hartney strived for the

funding of Makani, and he was likely to leave ARPA-E if Makani was not selected. This unalterable stance defending Makani lead the team’s funding.

Energy is such a vital aspect to our lives and where we get our energy is very crucial. Fossil fuels are

damaging our world and we are fully responsible for this drastic change in fossil fuel consumption. Al Gore famous for raising awareness of global warming and greenhouse gases believes, “This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue. It affects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left vs. right; it is a question of right vs. wrong. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows our.”(Gore.)


Damon showing me how to pick up a steel plate in the forklift 27

D e d i c a t i o n

I would like to dedicate this book to Corwin Hardham, who passed away in late 2012. I first met him several years ago, when I visited Makani in Alameda. He was always smiling and spread his cheerfullness to everyone around him. The second time i saw him, was when he was kite surfing and he began to teach me how to fly the trainer kites and then eventually with the actual board and kite. That day was a great day and I had tons of fun doing figure eights in the air and harnessing the massive power the kite could summon.


â&#x20AC;&#x153; Thi s i s not a p ol i t ic a l is s u e . T h is is a mor al is s u e . I t a f f ec ts th e survival of h um a n c i v i l i z at ion. I t is no t a qu e s tion of l e ft v s. rig h t ; it is a question of right v s. w rong . Pu t s imp ly, it is wrong to destroy th e h abitabi li t y of our p l a n et and r u in th e p ro s pe c ts of e v e ry g en eration th at f ol lo ws ou r . â&#x20AC;? A l G or e

Work Cited

Ausubel, Jesse H. Al. “Renewable Energy isNot Beneficial for the

Environment.” Opposing Viewpoints:Renewable Energy (2009)

Dunlap, Andrea. Personal interview. March 2013

Gore, Al. “Renewable Energy is Necessary to Reduce Global Warming.”

Opposing Viewpoints:Renewable Energy (2009)

Hartney, Mark A. Personal interview. February 2013

Vander Lind, Damon. Personal interview. March 2013

“Makani History ”, 2011. Web. March 21 2013.