Google invests US$10.2m in ‘killer app’ of energy world


20 Aug 2008

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Search giant Google’s philanthropic arm has revealed it is investing US$10.25m in a breakthrough new energy technology it has suggested could be the ‘killer app’ of the energy world.

Through Google.org, the search player’s investment focuses on a next-generation energy technology called Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) and the investment includes funding for research on next-generation geothermal resource mapping, information tools and a policy agenda for geothermal energy.

EGS expands the potential of geothermal energy by orders of magnitude. The traditional geothermal approach relies on finding naturally occurring pockets of steam and hot water.

The EGS process, by comparison, replicates these conditions by fracturing hot rock, circulating water through the system and using the resulting steam to produce electricity in a conventional turbine.

A recent MIT report on EGS estimates that just 2pc of the heat below the continental United States between 3 and 10 kilometres – depths within the range of current drilling technology – is more than 2,500 times the country’s total annual energy use.

To advance EGS, Google.org announced funding for two companies and a university.

It has invested US$6.25m in AltaRock Energy to develop innovative technologies to achieve significant cost reductions and improved performance in EGS projects.

It has also invested US$4m investment in Potter Drilling in two tranches, to develop new approaches to lower the cost and to expand the range of deep hard rock drilling, a critical element to large-scale deployment of EGS.

Google.org has also given Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab a US$489,521 grant to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy resources and to update geothermal mapping of North America.

“EGS could be the ‘killer app’ of the energy world. It has the potential to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7 and be captured nearly anywhere on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent sources like solar and wind,” said Dan Reicher, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives for Google.org.

Google’s Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative focuses on solar thermal power, advanced wind, EGS and other potential breakthrough technologies. Google has set a goal to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity, enough to power a city the size of San Francisco, in years not decades.

“Innovation is the path to massive quantities of cleaner, cheaper energy. The people we’re funding today have a real shot at lowering the cost of EGS, and bringing us closer to our goal of Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal,” added Dr Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google.org.

“EGS is critical to the clean electricity revolution we need to solve the climate crisis, but EGS hasn’t received the attention it merits. That’s why we’re pressing for expanded support from government and increased investment from the private sector,” said Reicher. “We’re big believers in EGS and we’re looking for more opportunities.”

By John Kennedy