Alphabet today announced that it is calling it quits on its efforts to build and monetize its Makani wind energy kites. Makani, which was founded in 2006, came into Google/Alphabet seven years ago as a Google X project. Last year, the company spun it out of X and made it a standalone Alphabet unit. Now, Makani’s time at Alphabet as an “Other Bet” is at an end. The company is still hoping to work with Shell, one of its earliest partners, to see how the technology can be used in another way, though.
“After considering many factors, 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,” says Astro Teller, captain of Moonshots at X and xhairman of the Makani board, in a statement. Teller, it’s worth noting, does not oversee Alphabet’s Other Bets.
“While it’s tempting to say that all climate-related ideas deserve investment, remaining clear-eyed and directing resources to the opportunities where we think we can have the greatest impact isn’t just good business; it’s essential when it comes to a problem as urgent as the climate crisis,” Teller added.
While at X/Alphabet, the team managed to get a 20kW demonstration project off the ground and expanded this to a unit capable of producing up to 600kW. Still, though, Alphabet clearly didn’t see a path forward to turning Makani into a viable (and profitable) project in the long run.
“Creating an entirely new kind of wind energy technology means facing business challenges as well as engineering challenges,” writes Fort Felker, who became the lead for Makani at X in 2015. “Despite strong technical progress, the road to commercialization is longer and riskier than hoped, so from today Makani’s time at Alphabet is coming to an end.”
Back in the day, when it first acquired Makani, Google probably wouldn’t have worried all that much about whether this project made good business sense. Those freewheeling times at Google are behind us, though, and, at this point, there is an expectation that even these forward-looking Other Bets have to become standalone businesses in the long run.