Google’s parent company Alphabet is pulling out of the Makani high-altitude ‘energy kite’ project, with the technology's future now apparently dependent on oil & gas giant Shell.

After seven years developing the high-altitude wind energy (HAWE) system under the tech giant’s wing, Makani CEO Fort Felker said: “Despite strong technical progress, the road to commercialisation is longer and riskier than hoped, so from today Makani’s time at Alphabet is coming to an end.”

Shell, which became involved in Makani in 2019 as the project attempted to move offshore, may yet offer a lifeline for the technology.

Dorine Bosman, VP Shell Wind Development, said: “The combination of airborne and floating wind offers innovative solutions to some of the challenges faced in scaling up. We collaborated with Makani to utilise our offshore operational experience to deploy and test its energy-kite technology from a floating platform.

“We believe that Makani remains one of the leading airborne-wind technologies in the world and we are exploring options to continue developing the technology within our New Energies strategy.”

Shell is exploring options to continue developing the technology.

Like other HAWE systems, Makani aimed to tap into winds far stronger than those at the height of conventional on- and offshore turbines.

As part of Alphabet’s X technology 'moonshot' incubator, and later as a standalone business, Makani advanced from a 20kW demonstrator kite to a utility-scale version at 600kW.

The venture was latterly targeting floating wind applications and flew offshore for the first time off Norway last August, ending with the loss of the kite when it failed to land successfully on a platform.

Folker, said “developing energy kites is an incredibly hard problem”, adding: “I believe that Makani’s journey is an example of the level of commitment, calculated risk-taking, and hard work that are the right building blocks for creating technical solutions to climate change.”

Other HAWE projects that have advanced over the last few years include Saipem-backed KiteGen and German utilities EnBW and EWE, together with kite wind specialist SkySails Power.