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Published December 3, 2007 08:11 AM

Commentary: Google's entry renewable energy.

Google announced last week that it is entering the renewable energy arena. RE<C is the name of the new initiative which deciphered means Renewable Energy Less Than Coal. And that’s the goal: renewable energy cheaper than coal, develop, implement and eventually commercialize for the rest of the world a renewable supply of electricity that would cost less per unit of energy than that of coal. Coal is the world’s least expensive source of energy, the most widely used and of course the single most troublesome emitter of greenhouse gases.

Initially RE<C will aim to produce one gigawatt of renewable electricity. Google will focus on three renewable technology areas, enhanced geothermal, wind energy and advanced solar thermal but will keep other potential breakthrough technologies in mind. The company is already hiring experts to quickly move the effort forward.

Google’s philanthropic arm,Google.org, will also work with RE<C to 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.

Google also expects to make money at this, eventually, too.

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The question is why. Why does Google want to step beyond the cyber information and media world to the rough and tumble world of energy?

On the surface the answer is simple, because it can, and it wants to.

But it’s more than that. It’s because it’s in a unique position to do so.

Google has always been willing to take risks and forgo profits for long periods of time. Google looks for the long term potential to make money. Unprofitable when it was bought, YouTube is one example. Google itself is another. How long, how many years did Google operate before making a dime? Quite a few as I recall.

Google is willing to cause a little disruption within industry, including its own. Getting involved in a disruptive industry - renewable energy - seems a perfect match. If Google can sell energy cheaper than coal then they would certainly be disruptive.

Google has deep pockets. Nuf said here.

Google can close its doors to special interests. Whereas Washington - and by extension, various branches of the federal government - and to some extent a few state governments - are trying to shape our energy future. But special interest is working hard to shape government in pursuit of profits. But Google doesn’t have to return phone calls when the coal industry wants to talk. Google has its version of what’s right for the nation, the planet.

Like many companies now, Google is concerned for the future of the planet. Other programs within Google and Google.org make that obvious. It’s Specialized / Google Innovate or Die contest for pedal-powered machines is one example. Another is Google.org’s RechargeIT Initiative to accelerate the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology.

Finally, and most importantly, Google believes that the solutions, the innovations to solve our problems, are most likely already out there, either developed but not recognized as such, or still in the deep recesses of someone’s mind. And who else would be able to find this information? Google, in the endless pages of the World Wide Web which in some ways it governs.

Those ideas might be within a government laboratory or a white paper it has produced and published on the web; or stashed in the archives of the some nation’s patent office for a deep search to find. But just as likely some small company or inventor, working out of his or her garage workshop has some answers. Google could find them.

When somebody wants information they usually begin with Google. For Google to find information they need only to search themselves. Somewhere in cyberspace there are some answers to save the planet. With RE<C Google might be on that road to find them.

 

Links:

Google Clean Energy

 

http://www.google.com/corporate/green/energy

 

Google.org

 

http://www.google.org

 

Specialized / Google Innovate or Die Contest

 

http://www.innovate-or-die.com

 

 

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