Google's Green Energy Partners: eSolar & Makani

Google’s Partners They’ve got your search, your mail, your maps. One day they might have the answer to your cheap, clean energy needs too. And they’re looking for partners. As part of Google’s announcement, aimed at developing cleaner power for less money, Google (GOOG) referenced solar thermal startup eSolar and wind energy startup Makani Power as partners that “have promising scalable energy technologies.”

Since there were no further details given as to the nature of these partnerships, Earth2Tech did some digging into the companies’ business. While neither company would comment on their work with Google, or the Google announcement, both said they were excited about working with Google. So, who are these guys and what do the do?

Pasadena, Calif.-based eSolar, not to be confused with PV e-Solar, was founded in 2007 by Bill Gross as part of his company IdeaLab. eSolar hopes to improve upon solar thermal by making much smaller heliostats than those currently on the market, and it wants them to be easy to mass produce. The model is based on the use of low-profile 25-megawatt generator units. Each generator would have an array of heliostats — mirrors that track the sun’s arc, and reflect the light to boil water and produce steam that powers a turbine.

solar array

eSolar is banking on their modular design to make utility-scale solar power economically possible. The modular design allows them to scale plants up to 500 MW from 25 MW made up of many individual generators. The independent units ensuring that the entire array doesn’t go down if one unit hiccups.
This is not the first time Gross has dealt with Google. He also founded the online photo publishing platform Picasa, which he sold to Google in 2004.

Makani Power, based in Alameda, Calif., is no stranger to Google, either. Last year they raised $10 million in Series A funding from the company. “Google is one of our primary investors to date,” Makani spokesperson Amy Johns told us. “We’re absolutely thrilled to be pushing forward with them.”

kiteMakani, pronounced mah kah’ nee, is Hawaiian for “wind or breeze.” The company looks to tap into the high-energy wind found at high altitudes 5 to 10 km up. Most high-altitude wind generation involves stringing up large kites on high tension wires, and the cryptic Makani site gives up few details, although their staff page does list several kite designers. The information provided by Google on the wind company says they are “designing membrane structures to cover large areas of the sky.” Sounds mildly terrifying to me. The only available image of their wind generator was on Google’s blog, and it looks more like a dragon fin than a wind generator. Johns tells us that this photo is of a very early prototype.

Both eSolar and Makani are primed to be making announcements in the coming months. We’ll see what this new partnership yields. GSolar? GWind? GEnergy?