Image credit: Google
From investing $280m in residential solar to providing massive financial support for a Mojave desert solar power plant, there's been much excitement about Google's forays into clean energy. After all, one of the most successful corporations in recent years has vast amounts of resources for taking solar mainstream.
But, ultimately, it's not just Google's money that makes them such an exciting supporter of renewable energy. It's their smarts.
We've already seen Google's smart, analytical approach applied to identifying important clean energy tipping points. Yet Dan Auld over at Renewable Energy World reports that even this corporation, known for its innovation, was relatively clueless when it came to the actual performance of its solar power. But Dan Auld over at Renewable Energy World reports that the same kind of revolutionary focus on data and transparency that Google once used to revolutionized the website industry (think Google Analytics), could easily bring about radical performance improvements for solar panel performance through better panel-level monitoring:
"Just like the web prior to analytics, Google had to admit it really did not know what was happening in its array because it had no way to monitor when good panels went bad," said Mark Yarbrourgh, a city councilman in Perris, California who pioneered the use of solar in public buildings. "But neither does anyone else. Arrays malfunction and no one knows because they do not use monitors at the panel level."
Showing its respect for both transparency and crowd sourcing solutions, Google already published a report online on getting the most out of Google's solar panels, revealing that the simple act of cleaning their panels sometimes doubled output but, as Auld explains, that monitoring was done at the systems level, not the panel level. Now panel-by-panel system monitoring is becoming increasingly viable, says Auld, with companies like Solar Power Technologies of Austin creating the opportunity to truly understand exactly how to best improve solar performance and target our investment for the greatest renewable energy possible.
I've already argued that solar creates behavior change by establishing ownership and a direct feedback loop between energy production and consumption. But as our capacity to monitor exactly how well solar is performing, and how much energy we are using, improves—this potential will only grow.
With smart companies like Google getting heavily invested in a clean energy future, this looks like an increasingly viable prospect.