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Alphabet kills kite energy 'moonshot' Makani after 7 years

Margi Murphy

Google's parent company Alphabet has pulled the plug on its kite-powered energy venture Makani, the first of its blue-sky "moonshot" projects to shut since Sundar Pichai took over as chief executive. 

Astro Teller, chief executive of X, Alphabet's experimental technology division, said: “I believe that the road to commercial viability is a much longer and riskier road than we’d hoped and that it no longer makes sense for Makani to be an Alphabet company.”

Makani took a radical approach to making wind energy cheaper by generating energy by flying large kites attached to buoys in a loop as a cheaper alternative to offshore wind farms.  

It was acquired by Alphabet seven years ago and adopted into its “X” division, which incubates challenging technology ideas, often with a societally beneficial purpose, which the company refers to as its "other bets". 

It graduated from X in February last year after signing a deal with Dutch oil giant Shell to test its offshore kite system in Norway, proving its potential for commercial success. 

Driverless car unit Waymo, internet balloon project Loon and life science research unit Verily are fellow alumni. 

However, the “small team” was recently told they have “a few months” to tee up their findings so they can be shared with other Alphabet projects, according to a blogpost published by Makani boss Fort Felker on Tuesday

A spokeswoman for X said that the company would try to find the Makani team, the size of which was not disclosed, a role elsewhere within the company.   

Google made a $4.8bn loss on its “other bets” in 2019, an increase of $1.4bn during 2018. 

Larry Page and Sergey Brin are understood to have taken a greater interest in these moonshot ideas, rather than the core search giant unit that propelled Google into everyday vocabulary. 

The pair stepped away from their roles as chief executive and chairman of Alphabet in December. Google chief executive Sundar Pichai took over.  He is expected to trim costs attributed to its other bets division.