Google says cheap renewable energy will take longer than expected

By Kieran Ball - 30 Apr 2011 14:27:0 GMT
Google says cheap renewable energy will take longer than expected

Since 2007, Google has been making efforts to develop energy from renewable sources that is cheaper than coal. The initiative, entitled the RE-C plan, focuses on solar, wind and geothermal power, as well as the newest renewable power technologies. The plan has already resulted in the firm investing hundreds of millions into renewable energy projects.

At its launch, Google co-founder, Gary Page announced: ''Our goal is to create one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic that this can be done in years rather than decades.''

However, according to Reuters, an update from the director of Google's green division, Rick Needham, this week, suggests that the scheme is going to take longer than previously envisaged.

''We are still moving forward. I think that it is an important and very aspirational goal, and we are doing what we can. But it takes a long-term view. There are not things you spend a year or two on and then say that you are there. We have still several years to go. These technologies take a while to develop and then deploy at scale.''

Since launching the initiative, Google has cut investment in renewable energy technology companies while increasing investment in renewable power generation schemes, most notably with a recent $100 million investment in the world's largest wind farm in Oregon, US.

A further $168 million is earmarked for the Ivanpah solar thermal complex in California. Both will still produce power that is more expensive than coal, but Google believes that this will change with continued investment in the technologies used and with others coming on board as companies begin to realise the benefits to be gained.

Google is also looking into newer renewable energy projects, such as enhanced geothermal where energy is created from heat deep in the earth's crust.

Clearly, Google's strategy is based on radical thinking and it's this type of thinking that made renewable energy a reality in the first place. Unfortunately, a combination of the global downturn and the fact that big business still doesn't see renewable energy as cost-effective means, for the time being, Google is going to have to go it alone.