The Google parent company Alphabet closes its power generation kite company Makani, the first completion of a Moonshot project since founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down from management in December.
Sundar Pichai, who took over from Alphabet, is under pressure to contain losses from the company's other betting segment, which includes self-driving cars and balloons that provide the Internet. Other bets lost $ 4.8 billion last year, up from $ 3.4 billion in 2018.
Makani was acquired in 2013 and included in the experimental “X” laboratory. Airborne wind turbines were developed that could be attached to floating buoys, so that expensive seabed structures were no longer required to support permanent turbines.
"It was a very difficult choice for us," said Astro Teller, managing director of X, on Tuesday before the Financial Times.
"Our assessment of the rewards for the world, the rewards for alphabet, and the risks and costs of getting there … they change over time. It is my job to assess this and ensure that we select the best that Alphabet can spend its money on. "
Alphabet would not confirm Makani's size, just saying it consisted of "dozens" of employees who hoped it could be assigned to other work related to Alphabet's climate change. A small team will stay a few months to compile Makani's research.
Makani's kites are designed to fly up to 300 meters above the water while attached to floating buoys that are weighted with anchors, rather than the full ocean platforms required to support typical offshore wind farms. It was hoped that Makani technology could be used in areas of the ocean that are too deep to build fixed wind turbines and where the wind is strongest.
As is typical for X companies with potential for commercialization, Makani was spun off from the laboratory in February last year after an undisclosed investment by Royal Dutch Shell. Makani held its first test flight off the coast of Norway in August.
But Alphabet decided that the possibility of severely disrupting the energy sector was gradually waning. While Makani initially believed that using its technology on land and in shallow and deep water could offer a competitive advantage, advances in competing technologies meant that this was probably no longer the case.
"It is very sad for Makani," said Teller. "But it's really great for the world."
An EU report published in 2018 agreed with Alphabet's assessment. "Technology still has a long way to go before it can be commercialized," it continues. The challenge was to demonstrate the reliable, autonomous operation that would make the concept feasible.
Shell said it was "looking for options" to adopt Makani's technology. "Offshore wind has the potential to achieve the large generation capacity society needs to transition to a low-carbon energy system," said Dorine Bosman, vice president of Shell Wind Development.
"We believe Makani remains one of the leading air wind technologies in the world and we are exploring options to develop the technology as part of our New Energies strategy."
Alphabet referred to other climate change projects within the company, such as the drone delivery company Wing, as an indication that the company was not changing its focus. Teller told the Financial Times that investment in moon shots would remain strong under Pichai and Ruth Porat, Alphabet's chief financial officer.
"Sundar and Ruth's appetite for continuing to make smart and exciting bets about the future has increased," said Teller.
"One reason they support us to keep doing this is that if something doesn't make sense, we make tough decisions to stop doing it." That's what Alphabet's ongoing support buys. "
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