JANUARY 2008

Google and renewable energy goals

Google, headquartered in Mountain View, California, has announced an initiative to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal.

The newly created initiative, known as RE<C, will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies. RE<C is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology, and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas.

In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related investments in renewable energy. As part of its capital planning process, the company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns.

“We have gained expertise in designing and building large-scale, energy-intensive facilities by building efficient data centers,” said Larry Page, Google co-founder and president of products. “We want to apply the same creativity and innovation to the challenge of generating renewable electricity at globally significant scale, and produce it cheaper than from coal.”

Page continued, “Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades.” (One gigawatt can power a city the size of San Francisco.)

“If we meet this goal,” said Page, “and large-scale renewable deployments are cheaper than coal, the world will have the option to meet a substantial portion of electricity needs from renewable sources and significantly reduce carbon emissions. We expect this would be a good business for us as well.”

“Lots of groups are doing great work trying to produce inexpensive renewable energy. We want to add something that moves these efforts toward even cheaper technologies a bit more quickly. Usual investment criteria may not deliver the super low-cost, clean, renewable energy soon enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” said Dr. Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, “Google.org’s hope is that by funding research on promising technologies, investing in promising new companies and doing a lot of R&D ourselves, we may spark a green electricity revolution that will deliver breakthrough technologies priced lower than coal.”

Working with RE<C, Google.org will make strategic investments and grants that demonstrate a path toward producing energy at an unsubsidized cost below that of coal-fired power plants.

Google will work with a variety of organizations in the renewable energy field, including companies, R&D laboratories, and universities. For example, Google.org is working with two companies that have promising scalable energy technologies:

  • eSolar Inc., a Pasadena, California-based company specializing in solar thermal power which replaces the fuel in a traditional power plant with heat produced from solar energy. eSolar’s technology has great potential to produce utility-scale power cheaper than coal.
  • Makani Power Inc., an Alameda, California-based company developing high-altitude wind energy extraction technologies aimed at harnessing the most powerful wind resources. High-altitude wind energy has the potential to satisfy a significant portion of current global electricity needs.