If Google is anything, it is ambitious. 'To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful' is the simple, honest, ambitious goal Google sets for itself everyday. Google has found tremendous success in this bold approach, and is now showing similar leadership in renewable energy.
This week Google announced a R&D; initiative with the goal to create a gigawatt of renewable energy that will be cheaper to produce than a gigawatt of electricity generated by coal-fired power plants. Coal is dirty, and the best way to free us from our fossil fuel addiction is to make renewable energy cheaper, on a grand scale. Google coined a somewhat geeky equation RE<C, (Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal) that sums up the idea nicely. To give you an idea of the scale, a gigawatt is estimated to be enough power for a city the size of San Francisco.
Solar thermal technology appears to be the front runner at the moment for supplying the gigawatt of power needed. Google.org (the philanthropic arm of Google) announced they are already working with eSolar (pictured) and the Google RE<C team gave the impression that their internal efforts would be directed along the lines of solar thermal technologies. I can't think of a better starting place for cheap energy than looking to the sun.
But, Google and Google.org are also firmly open to driving innovation as shown in another Google.org investment. Makani Power (Makani Kite Pictured) is a company that is thinking outside the box with high altitude wind energy capture systems. The Google RE<C team also has mentioned it is considering enhanced geothermal systems, as well as other 'potential breakthrough technologies'. It is not even clear if the resulting power plant will be a centralized facility or a distributed network, or some hybrid. Google simple wants what will work, and is willing to be creative and innovative to get the job done.
Google is using itself as a lightning rod and test-bed for energy innovation. In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions of dollars on the initiative, with plans to spend hundreds of millions on further investments. In addition Google is looking to hire about 20 people to fill out the RE<C initiative. Google is hoping this kind of directed cash injection may be just what is needed to create the conditions necessary for development of a gigawatt renewable energy power plant. And Google wisely wants to develop the prototype for itself.
Google's servers are suspected to use tremendous (no details were disclosed) volumes of energy. A limiting factor for Google's primary mission very well may be the energy needed to run more servers, and the related social and environmental costs of that energy production. I can't imagine paying a gigawatt energy bill. But, Google is used to meeting ambitious goals, let's hope this one is no different. For more information on the RE<C initiative follow the links below.