Google's investment is roughly 20 percent of total costs; project will be build be subsidiary of Japan's Sharp

Hot off its lucky (or cursed?) thirteenth alternative energy investment announcement on Halloween Day, Google Inc. (GOOG) is back with the announcement [press release] of yet another new renewable energy investment, this time in a group of mid-size Californian solar plants.

I. Sharp and Google Tango to a Sunny Beat

Google's $80M USD and investment firm accompanies an additional investment from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Comp. L.P. (KKR) and a debt offering, to scrounge up $400M USD for six utility-scale solar plants capable of generating 132 MWP (peak Megawatts) of power, or 106 MWAC (Megawatts in consumer-ready alternating current, post transform from panel DC output) of consumer-ready power capacity.

The plants are being built by San Francisco, Calif.-based solar integration firm Recurrent Energy.  Recurrent Energy is a solid choice for a deployment partner as it's backed and owned by Japan's Sharp Corp. (TYO:6753).  Sharp was the Japan's largest supplier of photovoltaic (PV) (solar) panels in 2012 and the sixth largest supplier globally, according to market research firm IHS Inc. (IHS).  Sharp last year shipped a little over 1 GWAC (gigawatt) in 2013.

Reccurrent Energy
Recurrent Energy's Victor Phelan PV grid, located near San Bernardino, Calif., is one of six new plants funded by Google and KKR. [Image Source: Recurrent/Google]

And so far 2013 has been shaping up to be a great year for the Japanese electronics conglomerate, as far as solar power goes, with sales up nearly 81 percent [PDF] in Q2-Q3 2013 (Sharp's fiscal H1 2014) versus the same period a year ago.  Solar now accounts for 12.6 percent of Sharp's total revenue, up from 8.4 percent a year ago.  According to IHS's Q3 2013 report, Sharp is now in fourth place with 4.7 percent of the total market, fast becoming a success story amid gloomier 2013 performances from its Chinese rivals, who have struggled with defect and demand issues.

The new Sharp-supplied plants will be installed in a number of hot desert regions in the Southwest, including a plant in the High Desert near San Bernardino, Calif., which lies in the southeast near Nevada's southern and Arizona's western borders.  Each plant will produce roughly 22 MWP and 17.5 MWAC.

Sharp panel
Sharp is the world's fourth largest solar panel producer, thanks to gains in 2013. [Image Source: Sharp]

KKR/Google and their installer Recurrent Energy are gunning for a pretty aggressive installation schedule, completing the new plants in 2014.  They say the plants should be enough to power roughly 17,000 homes, based on average home usage statistics.

This is not Google and KKR's first tie-up with Recurrent Energy. A previous project in 2011 involved $94M USD from Google and roughly $95M from KKR for four identical installations by Recurrent Energy, which are currently providing 22 MWP/17.5 MWAC of solar for the Californian market.

II. Deep Wind, Solar Investments

Google to date has committed to 14 total solar power investments, totaling $1B USD, and yield roughly 2 GWAC of capacity.

In June Google struck a ten year agreement [press release] to power its Hamina, Finland data center with wind energy from the new Maervaara wind farm.  Maeravaara is being constructed by Sweden's O2 Vind AB (not to be confused with the telecommunications service provider) and uses 24 N117/3000 turbines, three-megawatt (AC capacity) 120 meter tall turbines from German turbine firm Nordex SE (ETR:NDX1).

Nordex N117/3000
The Nordex N117/3000, a cold-weather tolerant 3 MW large wind turbine for land use. [Image Source: Nordex]

Constructed in a stretch of windy Swedish timberland, the new turbines are rated for operation down to -20 ºC and incorporate anti-icing technologies to help them deal with operating 100 km north of the Polar Circle.  Google has the entire output of the Maervaara farm reserved through 2024.

Google Finland
Google's data center in Hamina, Finland will now get part of its power from a Swedish wind farm.
[Image Source: Google]

In September [press release] it signed another wind contract -- with the Happy Hereford wind farm in Amarillo, Texas.  The 240 MW (AC capacity) farm, which borders Oklahoma, will provide juice for Google's Mayes County, Okla. data center.  The wind farm was built by Chermac Energy Corp., a multi-state energy project firm owned by Native Americans.  The duration of the deal was not revealed, but it will begin when the plant goes online late 2014.

Google also has three other long term contracts, including deals with Oklahoma and Iowa wind farms.

The internet superpower has also been on a tear buying up long-term contracts for solar capacity or making investments in solar plants.  In October it partnered [press release] with Silver Ridge Power LLC -- the joint venture of The AES Corp. (AES) and private investment firm Riverstone LLC.  (Silver Ridge Power was formerly known as AES Power.)  Google is investing in a 265.7 MWAC (peak) PV plant which Silver Ridge Power is building in Imperial County.  

Mt. Signal Solar
On Halloween Google announced a $103M USD investment for Mt. Signal Solar. [Image Source: Google]

The plant is known as Mount Silver Solar or Imperial Valley Solar 1.  Under Google's $103M USD investment, Google will resell power to the local San Diego Gas & Electric Comp., a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (SRE).

III. Good Deed or Greenwashing?  You Decide

The Google RE<C (Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal) project kicked off in 2007.  Initial investments focused on emerging technologies, while recent investments have focused on more mature solar and wind power renewable energy projects.  Google in 2008 suggested that the entire U.S.'s electricity needs could be provided 100 percent from renewable sources by 2030.  

Google Green
Google stands steadfastly behind the alternative energy movement. [Image Source: Google]

Although it looks increasingly unlikely there's a chance of that dream coming true, Google has continued to plug away to reduce its so-called "carbon footprint" ever since.  Google claims that 34 percent of its substantial global power footprint now comes from renewable sources.

While it'd be difficult to fault Google's "Green" efforts on the efficiency side of the equation, its alternative energy investments and political support have evoked mixed reactions.  Some chalk the efforts up to nothing more than a bragging battle between Google and its rivals like Apple, Inc. (AAPL).  

Critics point out that Google can't actually use most of the power it buys as these power sources (like wind and solar) are too volatile for the steady power needs of Google's data centers.  They complain that Google is part of the problem for supporting national and state alternative energy commitments, such as California's demand that all utilities operating in state get 20 percent of their energy from alternative sources by 2020 (the 20 by 2020 pledge).

Renewable Stats
Google's efforts consist of a mix of efforts to reduce consumption (efficiency improvements) and investments in renewable power sources (source side).

Supporters, though, point out that these projects improve U.S. security (to an extent) by reducing reliance on volatile foreign oil sources in hostile regions such as Venezuela and the Middle East.  And these technologies have other benefits for mankind; for example efficient solar panels can be a valuable energy source for satellites.

They also argue that wind and solar are valuable technologies for when fossil fuel resources are exhausted -- which may be 1,000 years away or more, but will eventually happen.  Of course that perspective is not without controversy as well; some argue that other solutions (e.g. nuclear fission and synthetic hydrocarbon fuels from genetically modified microorganisms) are more practical in the somewhat near-term and yet other technologies (e.g. nuclear fusion) are more practical in the long term.

Sources: Google, Recurrent Energy, KKR

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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