I met Hardham in early September this year, at the Airborne Wind Energy Consortium (AWEC) conference in Hampton, Virginia, for a story I wrote for Yale Environment 360. He was very obviously among the leaders in the room; in an increasingly crowded field, his company's airborne system is probably closest to industrial-scale deployment, with tens of millions of dollars in backing from Google and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). When I spoke with Hardham, he was thoughtful and confident, and expressed strong belief that airborne wind power is ready to take off.
The Makani system, the design and engineering for which Hardham is primarily responsible, involves a rigid wing with on-board turbines and generators. The wing flies in vertical circles and sends the generated power back down a cable to the ground. The technology is already through its seventh iteration, and the current version has a generating capacity of 600 kilowatts (not far off from this massive turbine I visited in Texas). Hardham told me of Makani's plan to build a much bigger version: a five-megawatt behemoth, about as wide as the wingspan of a Boeing 747, ideally suited for offshore use.
There is a lot of energy flowing by high above our heads, and Hardham was one of the primary faces of the attempt to start harnessing it. As the front-page memorial on Makani's website shows, his loss is huge for the company, and for an industry that needs all the smart, driven people it can find.
Image via Makani Power