05:23
TED2009

Saul Griffith: High-altitude wind energy from kites!

Filmed:

In this brief talk, Saul Griffith unveils the invention his new company Makani Power has been working on: giant kite turbines that create surprising amounts of clean, renewable energy.

- Inventor
Inventor Saul Griffith looks for elegant ways to make real things, from low-cost eyeglasses to a kite that tows boats. His latest projects include open-source inventions and elegant new ways to generate power. Full bio

If you're at all like me,
00:19
this is what you do with the sunny summer weekends in San Francisco:
00:20
you build experimental kite-powered hydrofoils
00:23
capable of more than 30 knots.
00:26
And you realize that there is incredible power in the wind,
00:28
and it can do amazing things.
00:31
And one day, a vessel not unlike this
00:33
will probably break the world speed record.
00:35
But kites aren't just toys like this.
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Kites: I'm going to give you a brief history,
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and tell you about the magnificent future
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of every child's favorite plaything.
00:44
So, kites are more than a thousand years old,
00:47
and the Chinese used them for military applications,
00:49
and even for lifting men.
00:52
So they knew at that stage they could carry large weights.
00:53
I'm not sure why there is a hole in this particular man.
00:56
(Laughter)
00:58
In 1827, a fellow called George Pocock
01:00
actually pioneered the use of kites for towing buggies
01:03
in races against horse carriages across the English countryside.
01:06
Then of course, at the dawn of aviation,
01:11
all of the great inventors of the time --
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like Hargreaves, like Langley,
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even Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, who was flying this kite --
01:17
were doing so in the pursuit of aviation.
01:20
Then these two fellows came along,
01:23
and they were flying kites to develop the control systems
01:25
that would ultimately enable powered human flight.
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So this is of course Orville and Wilbur Wright,
01:31
and the Wright Flyer.
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And their experiments with kites led to this
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momentous occasion, where we powered up and took off for the
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first-ever 12-second human flight.
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And that was fantastic for the future of commercial aviation.
01:45
But unfortunately, it relegated kites once again to be considered children's toys.
01:49
That was until the 1970s, where we had the last energy crisis.
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And a fabulous man called Miles Loyd
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who lives on the outskirts of San Francisco,
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wrote this seminal paper that was completely ignored
02:01
in the Journal of Energy
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about how to use basically an airplane on a piece of string
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to generate enormous amounts of electricity.
02:09
The real key observation he made is that
02:12
a free-flying wing can sweep through more sky and generate more power
02:14
in a unit of time than a fixed-wing turbine.
02:18
So turbines grew. And they can now span up to three hundred feet at the hub height,
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but they can't really go a lot higher,
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and more height is where the more wind is, and more power --
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as much as twice as much.
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So cut to now. We still have an energy crisis,
02:33
and now we have a climate crisis as well. You know,
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so humans generate about 12 trillion watts,
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or 12 terawatts, from fossil fuels.
02:42
And Al Gore has spoken to why we need to hit one of these targets,
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and in reality what that means is in the next 30 to 40 years,
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we have to make 10 trillion watts or more of new clean energy somehow.
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Wind is the second-largest renewable resource after solar:
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3600 terawatts, more than enough to supply humanity 200 times over.
03:02
The majority of it is in the higher altitudes, above 300 feet,
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where we don't have a technology as yet to get there.
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So this is the dawn of the new age of kites.
03:14
This is our test site on Maui, flying across the sky.
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I'm now going to show you
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the first autonomous generation of power
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by every child's favorite plaything.
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As you can tell, you need to be a robot to fly this thing for thousands of hours.
03:28
It makes you a little nauseous.
03:32
And here we're actually generating about 10 kilowatts --
03:34
so, enough to power probably five United States households --
03:36
with a kite not much larger than this piano.
03:39
And the real significant thing here
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is we're developing the control systems,
03:44
as did the Wright brothers, that would enable sustained, long-duration flight.
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And it doesn't hurt to do it in a location like this either.
03:51
So this is the equivalent for a kite flier of peeing in the snow --
03:56
that's tracing your name in the sky.
03:59
And this is where we're actually going.
04:01
So we're beyond the 12-second steps.
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And we're working towards megawatt-scale machines
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that fly at 2000 feet and generate tons of clean electricity.
04:07
So you ask, how big are those machines?
04:11
Well, this paper plane would be maybe a -- oop!
04:13
That would be enough to power your cell phone.
04:16
Your Cessna would be 230 killowatts.
04:19
If you'd loan me your Gulfstream, I'll rip its wings off and generate you a megawatt.
04:22
If you give me a 747, I'll make six megawatts,
04:26
which is more than the largest wind turbines today.
04:29
And the Spruce Goose would be a 15-megawatt wing.
04:32
So that is audacious, you say. I agree.
04:35
But audacious is what has happened many times before in history.
04:38
This is a refrigerator factory,
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churning out airplanes for World War II.
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Prior to World War II, they were making 1000 planes a year.
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By 1945, they were making 100,000.
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With this factory and 100,000 planes a year,
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we could make all of America's electricity in about 10 years.
04:54
So really this is a story about the audacious plans of young people
04:58
with these dreams. There are many of us.
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I am lucky enough to work with 30 of them.
05:03
And I think we need to support all of the dreams
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of the kids out there doing these crazy things.
05:07
Thank you.
05:10
(Applause)
05:11

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About the Speaker:

Saul Griffith - Inventor
Inventor Saul Griffith looks for elegant ways to make real things, from low-cost eyeglasses to a kite that tows boats. His latest projects include open-source inventions and elegant new ways to generate power.

Why you should listen

Innovator and inventor Saul Griffith has a uniquely open approach to problem solving. Whether he's devising a way to slash the cost of prescription eyeglasses or teaching science through cartoons, Griffith makes things and then shares his ideas with the world.

A proponent of open-source information, he established Instructables , an open website showing how to make an array of incredible objects. He is the co-founder of numerous companies including Squid Labs, Low Cost Eyeglasses, Potenco and Makani Power, where he is President and Chief Scientist. His companies have invented a myriad of new devices and materials, such as a "smart" rope that senses its load, or a machine for making low-cost eyeglass lenses through a process inspired by a water droplet. He is a columnist at Make magazine and co-writes How Toons! He's fascinated with materials that assemble themselves, and with taking advantage of those properties to make things quickly and cheaply.

More profile about the speaker
Saul Griffith | Speaker | TED.com