Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) today announced a new strategic 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.
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.
"There has been tremendous work already on renewable energy. Technologies have been developed that can mature into industries capable of providing electricity cheaper than coal. Solar thermal technology, for example, provides a very plausible path to providing renewable energy cheaper than coal. We are also very interested in further developing other technologies that have potential to be cost-competitive and green. We are aware of several promising technologies, and believe there are many more out there."
"With talented technologists, great partners and significant investments, we hope to rapidly push forward. 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."
-- Larry Page, Google Co-founder and President of Products
Coal is the primary power source for many around the world, supplying 40% of the world's electricity. The greenhouse gases it produces are one of the greatest environmental challenges. Making electricity produced from renewable energy cheaper than coal would be a key part of reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions.
Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, will be a partner in this ambitious endeavor by providing funding for companies and projects with promising, scalable and potentially breakthrough energy technologies. Last summer Google.org announced an RFP as part of their RechargeIT project aiming to accelerate the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology. After reviewing more than 350 applications, last week they selected just under 40 companies in categories including batteries, components and vehicle-to-grid solution to advance to the next round of review. Google.org anticipates to announce investments in some of these interesting companies during the first quarter of 2008.
Two of the early-stage companies Google has begun to work with to drive down the costs of renewable energy are:
- eSolar Inc., a Pasadena, CA-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. A rendition of one of their 25 MW modules is shown at the begining of this post.
- Makani Power Inc., an Alameda, CA-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.
This post was adapted from a press release by Google.
This is a commendable effort by Google, with no apparent financial gain on their part. This iniative should compliment the efforts of others to make renewable energy a more viable power source. Their goal of making renewable energy cheaper than coal is quite a headline maker, but in my mind a possible achievement. Good luck Google.
Their selection of eSolar, a thermal power company, is a rather conservative pick with one of the lowest costs of current technologies, while Makani, a high altitude wind energy technology company, indicates a willingness to invest in cutting edge technologies.