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Googling our way to a new energy future?

by a siegel Tue Nov 27th, 2007 at 03:26:17 PM EST

Today, Google announced RE C -- think renewable electricity cheaper than coal.  To be honest, it is hard to underestimate the importance of actions like these.


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.

To achieve this, Google is planning to start $10s of millions in investments in R&D, with the anticipation of $100s of milions of investment in the coming few years.  

The target:  1 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity at or below the cost of coal-generated electricity.


Okay, so, this is press release material.

This is enthusiasm speaking.

But, there is a power to the marketplace. And, well, Google has demonstrated an ability to operate in 21st century realities.

From the press release:

"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."

So, Google has been dealing with the challenge of one of today's greatest energy hogs, the server farms that keep EuroTribune (and the net) operating.  And, want to apply the lessons.

Page added, "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."

Concentrated Solar Power is going through major growth, with competitive prices for peak power in higher-cost markets.  Could mass production drive these costs below coal?  Even without placing a price on pollution "externalities"?

Page continued, "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." (One gigawatt can power a city the size of San Francisco.)
 

Again, that gigawatt target.  Note that this hits a mid-sized city's requirements.  Able to do this cheaper than coal provides a pretty serious proof of concept.

"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."

There are real opportunities to make green by Going Green.  Here is an upfront statement by Google. They're making a bet that they can figure out the cost curves and take a leading position in the renewable energy world. And, by doing so, set themselves up for making even more green by Greening the Globe with renewable energy systems.

"Google: Powering a clean energy revolution"

The vision Google expresses at their green energy page is impressive.  Identified there are two of Google's early bets:  eSolar (solar thermal power) and Makani Power Inc (high-altitude wind).  Both of these are promising arenas for affordable renewable power.

This is good news.

Will Google help find and fund a critical Silver BB?  

Maybe. ...

Just maybe.  

News items like this bring out that optimistic side of my being a pessimistic optimist (or, well, was it optimistic pessimist?).

Stepping back from Optimism to Contemplation

Now, Google might have the ability to make this a reality, to be able to operate in an innovation fashion, with (massive) resources to apply quickly against emerging solutions for deployment into the real world. We can expect that they will have rich data collection/analysis, with an intent to (at the end of the day) be making a real profit at this.  Thus, would Google be able to develop a renewable energy solution that could elbow aside fossil fuel?  Well, maybe, just maybe.

But, this creates a huge set of questions which can include (for example).

  1.  Technology is not the problem or solution, but just part of it.  We actually need to be putting it all together in terms of government policy, citizen activism, market development, business practices, and technology.  Does this initiative touch the first three?  There are quite serious challenges to getting renewable into the market space and cheap prices are not necessarily enough to do the trick. (See, for example, getting electricity right: three key regulatory challenges.)

  2.  What is the role of private versus public?  Now, personally, I believe that there is enough to do to keep both the public and private sectors fully occupied, but this is an arena of legitimate discussion/debate.

  3.  Google is clearly working on more than one front, but we need to be tackling energy efficiency and, well, perhaps changed cultural environments as well as simply providing this cheap renewable power.  Deploying clean power combined with reducing energy demands is a clear path toward rapid reduction in fossil-fuel CO2 pollution.

And, well, other questions? Issues?

We can all

help make

America

Energy Smart.

<u>Ask yourself</u>:  

Are you doing

your part to

ENERGIZE AMERICA?



  • For a discussion of a related Google initiative, see: Climate Saves Smart Computing from June.  And, see RechargeIT.org for Google's involvement with Plug-In Hybrids.
  • Related material at Energy Smart.
  • Looking for additional ways to take action?  Consider investing in a progressive future
  • Coding help ... please.  I had, on initial posting, the name of the initiative correct. When I edited the diary, it treated the name (with the less than sign) as html coding.  Anyone able to tell me how to insert this correctly?

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are the core of it. Especially #3. There is no magic monoculture one-size-fits-all bullet. That's a politician's soundbite, because they have lost the skill of communicating complex problems - especially when there are moral components.

The Google approach - to test and develop everything is the right one. because the planet is not homogenous. We need lots of solutions for deriving electricity from renewable sources. And lots of solutions for conserving that electricity. We may survive with less and less oil, but our whole society is built on energy in the form of electricity. I don't see what the alternatives are - apart from going back 200 years.

And all these solutions have to also address the provision of basic rights for everyone: water, food, sanitation and a roof over our heads.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Nov 27th, 2007 at 03:52:16 PM EST
Jamais Cascio had a kind of big, integrative post on various kinds of 'Green Tomorrows' recently. You might be interested. It relates to your questions, somehow. The comments are worthwhile as well.

Excellent stuff, a.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Nov 27th, 2007 at 04:59:10 PM EST
What is the role of private versus public?  Now, personally, I believe that there is enough to do to keep both the public and private sectors fully occupied, but this is an arena of legitimate discussion/debate.

I don't believe it's any longer necessary to treat it as either Public or Private as defined by ownership of a "Corporation".

It's possible to create legal frameworks other than Corporations within which both the Public sector and Corporations may co-operate to achieve a common purpose.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Nov 27th, 2007 at 05:59:02 PM EST
Have you read Capitalism 3.0? An amazing review over at DKos:  http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/11/17/182729/73  

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Tue Nov 27th, 2007 at 10:02:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. Downloaded it a while ago, and briefly corresponded with the author.

Brilliant analysis.

But Trust law just doesn't cut it as a basis for an enterprise model.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Nov 28th, 2007 at 06:45:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... to insert symbols that are treated significant in html, use an entity, &entity-name; ... the entity name for less-than is "lt", so insert

&lt; to get <

&gt; to get >

Also works for named symbols that your keyboard may not be set-up for, like the euro symbol ...

&euro; to get €

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Nov 28th, 2007 at 05:38:08 AM EST


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