Google 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. RE<C is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology, and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas. 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.
"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."
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."
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.)
"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."
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 our greatest environmental challenges. Making electricity produced from renewable energy cheaper than coal would be a key part of reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions.
"Cheap renewable energy is not only critical for the environment but also vital for economic development in many places where there is limited affordable energy of any kind," added Sergey Brin, Google Co-founder and President of Technology.
Strategic Investments and Grants
"Lots of groups are doing great work trying to produce inexpensive renewable energy. We want to add something that moves these efforts toward even cheaper technologies a bit more quickly. Usual investment criteria may not deliver the super low-cost, clean, renewable energy soon enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change," said Dr. Larry Brilliant, Executive Director of Google.org, Google's philanthropic arm, "Google.org's hope is that by funding research on promising technologies, investing in promising new companies, and doing a lot of R&D ourselves, we may help spark a green electricity revolution that will deliver breakthrough technologies priced lower than coal."
Working with RE<C, Google.org will make strategic investments and grants that demonstrate a path toward producing energy at an unsubsidized cost below that of coal-fired power plants. Google will work with a variety of organizations in the renewable energy field, including companies, R&D laboratories, and universities.