Google wants to make electricity cheaper than coal

28 Nov 2007

In what seems like a diamond idea, search giant Google is to spend tens of millions of dollars in 2008 on R&D to develop electricity from renewable energy resources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal.

The company says it is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead the R&D project that will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other breakthrough technologies.

The initiative, known as REC, will eventually see Google spend hundreds of millions of dollars on breakthrough renewable energy projects that generate positive returns.

“We have gained expertise in designing and building large-scale, energy-intensive facilities by building efficient data centres,” 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: “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.”

Page said that with talented technologists, partners and significant investments, the 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,” he said.

Google says it is already working with two companies that have promising scalable technologies.

These are: eSolar Inc, a California-based firm specialising in solar thermal power and that plans to produce utility scale power cheaper than coal; and Makani Power Inc, another Californian firm that intends to harness wind energy to satisfy a significant portion of the current global electricity needs.

By John Kennedy