News From the East Bay Green Corridor

Remembering Corwin Hardham of Makani Power

Corwin Hardham, 1974 - 2012

Wind power pioneer Corwin Hardham, co-founder and CEO of Makani Power, died suddenly but peacefully at his desk on October 23. He was 38 years old.

"He was an exceptional person," said Alden Woodrow, Makani's head of business development. A trained dancer and former professional windsurfer, Hardham earned his PhD in mechanical engineering from Stanford. Prior to Makani, the serial entrepreneur helped found Squid Labs, from which several companies spun out, including Instructables. "But Makani was Corwin's real focus for the last several years and what he saw as his opportunity to change the world," said Woodrow.

As CEO of Makani, Hardham served as the company's figurehead and leader. He pulled together and oversaw the management of the team, worked with investors and raised money—including venture capital from Google and a grant from ARPA-E. "But when he had the opportunity," said Woodrow, "Corwin also would actually work in CAD (computer-aided design) and get into the shop and design and build things for our system."

Makani's Airborne Wind Turbine

Central to that system is Makani's airborne wind turbine (AWT), which recreates the blade tip of a conventional wind turbine, the component that produces the most energy. However, the AWT does not require a tower, cell or gearbox. Rather, it is tethered to the ground like a kite and flown in loops at high altitudes, where the winds are stronger. This harnesses wind power using much less material than a conventional wind turbine does, at a much lower cost.

"We think we can build a wind turbine that can produce electricity at a cost that's competitive with fossil fuels like gas and coal—without subsidies," said Woodrow.

The Airborne Wind Turbine in Action

Makani has built a number of different prototypes and is currently testing its 30kW prototype system outside its shop in Alameda. The company has plans to build larger systems and sell its AWTs commercially within a couple of years. In the meantime, Makani has raked in awards, accolades and press coverage from the likes of Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal and others.

"Although Corwin's death leaves a great loss for the company and we'll never be able to replace him or that unique combination that he had, he did a great job delegating responsibility and building a world-class team here at Makani Power," said Woodrow. "We're in a really good position to execute on the vision that Corwin had. And people here are more determined than ever to do that."

Donations in Hardham's memory may be made to San Francisco Baykeeper.

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