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Google Power October 12, 2011

Posted by Brandon in Technology Forum - the Art.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Google’s services are generally free, but they’re not cheap.  While it is the pre-eminent source for search, cloud and increasingly mobile technology, Google has entered a new market over the last few years…Energy.  Last month, Google began offering solar panel installation packages for residential properties to support its energy consumption.  However this is not Google’s first investment in energy exploration, and it likely won’t be the last.

Data centers full of servers store and run Google’s technology, and it uses a lot of electricity.  A single data center can gobble up enough energy to power a city of 40,000 people, and Google has almost forty around the world.  “Brown” energy, or energy created from coal and oil, is expensive and shown to be environmentally hazardous.  Google had trouble finding energy investments or companies to develop new tools, so as they “do no evil”, Google moved into investing in green technology and support its development independantly.

This led Google to found a new arm of the company, known as Google Green.  Google strives to use green technology and energy to power their data centers and promote the use of sustainable energy in general.  While Google is notoriously secretive, CEO Eric Schmidt admits that “energy prices drive the cost of Google”, and the lack of green energy development inspired the company to begin investing in the technology itself.  Internally, Google is developing new materials to replace mirrors on solar-thermal farms, which dramatically cuts manufacturing costs.  It already has installed 1.6 megawatts of solar panels on its facilities, which now cover 30% of Google’s operating power needs.

In the first stages of developing green technology, Google partnered with General Electric in 2008, and began developing its own technology in 2009.  Since then, it has invested in wind farms in North Dakota, California and Oregon along with solar projects in California and Germany.  Google’s most well known projects include a $168 million investment in 2011 for a solar thermal development in California’s Mojave Desert, which could supply energy to nearby locations like Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

However, Google’s most ambitious plan involves funding and developing a “superhighway” of huge waterproof wiring to be installed off the US eastern coastline, with the goal of creating the infrastructure for large wind farms in the Atlantic.

The most recent project of supplying residential solar panels launched last month.  Under the plan, Google will finance and own the solar panel installations, and will collect fees from homeowners as well as energy subsidies from the federal government.  In return, homeowners are provided with free solar panels and installation along with the right to buy the solar energy which is collected from their own roofs.  Residential solar panel installation would otherwise cost upwards of $30,000, and the monthly “energy fee” Google will charge homeowners to use the power should be less than the local utility bills.  Indeed, for Google “it’s an opportunity to significantly expand the market” for green energy.  Certainly, much of this power would be harnessed for Google or its investor’s purposes.

Which leads to the current political “climate” for green energy.  The Obama administration is in an uncomfortable position of justifying it’s guaranteed $500 million to the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which subsequently filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and laid off all its workers earlier this year.  Despite this, at the end of last month President Obama approved two more solar panel loans for $1 billion.  In Massachusetts, the company Evergreen was given $58 million in state and federal credits, only to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy as well.

Certainly the green energy sector is in need for an overhaul, and requires commercial support apart from government subsidies.  To compete with China, which provides subsidizes in the billions of dollars to it’s green energy sector, the US green energy industry needs a massive boost.  Maybe Google is just trying to do its part.  The Obama administration would certainly appreciate someone else footing the bill for a little while.


1. Greening our grid through renewable energy purchases - U.S. Green Technology - February 3, 2014

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