Alameda Point Entrepreneurs: Alternative Energy

Alameda Point Entrepreneurs: Alternative Energy

Heather L. Wood
Makani Power's Airborne Wind Turbine. Photo from the Makani Power website.

The nonprofit East Bay Green Corridor is a multi-faceted collaboration of entities that spans the entire East Bay area, but it has a unifying mission: to make the East Bay an epicenter of environmentally sustainable business. The Green Corridor group would like the world to see Alameda and Contra Costa counties as the Silicon Valley of clean technology.

The East Bay is home to a range of businesses that identify as “clean,” or “green,” including those that focus on energy: its generation, storage, infrastructure and efficiency. And Alameda Point is home to some businesses that have been at the forefront of these efforts.

Alameda Municipal Power, which maintains a substation at Alameda Point, has been supplying the Island with electricity since 1887. Newer to the former Naval Air Station are Makani Power, Natel Energy and Point Source Power, all of which have been recognized as pioneers in the field of alternative energy.

While there is no one definition of “clean tech,” the term generally refers to products, services and processes that minimize ecological impact and emphasize the responsible use of natural resources.

Wind energy has many advocates, who see it as a ready source of renewable power that can be accessed without major damage to the environment. Critics counter that wind energy is unreliable because the output from wind farms is inconsistent. But Corwin Hardham, chief executive officer of Makani Power, believes he can prove that wind is a viable source of power.

Hardham’s new airborne wind turbine (AWT) is designed to capture the stronger and more consistent winds found at higher altitudes, generating more energy than other turbines even though it’s constructed with a fraction of the material. The AWT is a tethered wing that generates power by flying in large circles; it can access winds both at high altitudes and above deep waters offshore. Eventually, Makani aims to deploy utility-scale airborne turbines in offshore wind farms.

Hardham located his company in the former air traffic control tower at Alameda Point because the former Naval Air Station had what he needed: space, infrastructure, port access, and, most importantly, wind. The company has been doing research and design there for more than five years. With investment support from Google and the United States Department of Energy, Makani is now working to convert its prototypes into viable commercial products. In an interview with The Alamedan, Hardham said that Makani is drawing nearer to its ultimate goal.

“The biggest development is that all flight modes of the AWT have now been demonstrated by our prototype, so the utility scale product is within reach,” he explained. “The proofs are there. The technology does all it’s meant to do.”

A few offices away, Gia Schneider of Natel Energy is working on her own contribution to renewable power: the Schneider Linear Hydroengine. The SLH, like other hydropower turbines, uses water to create electricity. But Natel’s creation is smaller than traditional hydropower devices and friendlier to fish, and can do its work within existing infrastructure like dams and irrigation canals.

Schneider said she is “in very active conversations” with public and private parties interested in using Natel’s products, which are moving into the commercial production phase.

Point Source Power, which is around the corner on West Midway Avenue, is working on a micro fuel cell that could bring power to people who live in areas without electricity. The pocket-sized device is filled with biomass (wood, charcoal, or cow dung) that can be heated on cook stoves to create energy. Co-founder and CEO Craig Jacobson launched the startup after conducting graduate research at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs.

In 2011, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), NASA, and the U.S. Department of State selected Point Source to participate in LAUNCH, an initiative formed to identify solutions to the world's most pressing sustainability challenges.

“We need a simple, affordable technology that easily integrates into the daily lives of people in underserved regions of the world,” Point Source’s Jacobson was quoted as saying on the LAUNCH website. “Cooking is something that has to be done every day. We have taken cutting edge technology and matched it to this daily ritual.”

Dr. Alex Dehgan, science and technology adviser to the administrator at USAID, called Point Source and the other finalists “remarkable” in a USAID press release and affirmed the agency’s commitment to accelerating their progress.

"Access to sustainable sources of energy is one of the 21st century's greatest challenges, and this group of innovators stands a real chance of making a significant impact in meeting that challenge," Deghan said.

Photo of an airborne wind turbine from the Makani Power website.


Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Thu, Oct 4, 2012

I hope that the upcoming election results will support the rapid implementation of these companies' innovative and much-needed technologies. They seem much more sustainable than the "clean coal" (not) that Governor Romney was pitching in last night's debate.

Submitted by AlamedaBullMoose on Thu, Oct 4, 2012

Politics aside, renewable energy IS the future ... the US can lead, or we can follow. Alameda Point offers a unique opportunity to provide a setting for innovative businesses ...