Google has already made it clear that it wants to promote alternative energy in a big way as part of its "Don't be evil" philosophy. Its initial round of funding included grants to solar and a high-altitude wind power startup. In its second round, Google granted $10M USD more to a couple of geothermal startups, looking to harness Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) -- which involve injecting water deep into the ground to make steam.
Now Google has outlined a comprehensive plan to accomplish what the U.S. government and private business has thus far been unable to do -- eliminate U.S. dependence on foreign oil and non-renewable energy sources.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt outlined the new plan at the Corporate EcoForum which featured executives from Coca-Cola, Motorola, Clorox, Microsoft, and other top industry players. In order to back his plan, Mr. Schmidt used a great deal of calculations. He says that the justification for adopting alternative energy boils down to basic math, with the formula energy efficiency = savings (or E2=$) being the key. He stated, "It's just a math problem."
His plan is for the U.S. to by 2030 adopt renewable energy sources for 100 percent of the country's power generation. This would eliminate the coal-fired plants primarily used to provide electricity. Further, he says that in that time span half the cars need to be replaced with plug-in hybrids, like the Chevy Volt.
The math adds up, he says. The result will be to cut U.S. carbon emissions in half, which he says will help to avert man-made climate change. He says there are also great financial benefits to the adoption. He says the U.S. would save 97 percent of $2.17 trillion in energy spending over the next 22 years.
Alternative energy would add up to big in-sourcing of alternative energy design, production, and installation jobs as well, says Mr. Schmidt. According to his figures, there are currently 500,000 jobs in wind companies alone.
Google has invested in wind, solar, and geothermal thus far. Mr. Schmidt explained it is currently avoiding nuclear as it is unsatisfied with current response to security concerns, including physical terrorism or remote online attacks from foreign nationalists. Mr. Schmidt explains that once these concerns are properly addressed it will start investing in nuclear. Google is considering tidal and wave power as fourth or fifth investment plan.
While Google has recently filed patents for a floating barge, powered by the ocean's mechanical energy, which could serve as a floating data center, it says it has no current plans to construct it yet. But, Mr. Schmidt adds, "You never know at Google."
A key question in the alternative energy debate, according to Mr. Schmidt, is how the long it takes to return the investment. He states, "The model you have is...one of a distributed renewable power structure. It's a matter of how long is the payback?"
He says that it only cost $5M USD for Google to restructure its buildings to cut carbon emissions, and it is reaping the benefits after only 2.5 years. Furthermore, Schmidt says Google has installed solar and power monitoring equipment, which are currently saving Google money each year. He adds, "The question is: can any one of you make a difference...Of course we can. But we must have a policy."
Google's chief blames the country's energy woes on a "total failure of political leadership". He declined to endorse a specific candidate, but merely stated that the government was being shortsighted on the financial, political, and climate impacts of continued reliance on fossil fuels.
He argues that one key is for the government to provide tax breaks to energy efficient businesses. For consumers, he suggests utilities provide consumers with real-time power meters, so they can see their use and then see the savings of items such as home solar installations. Google is also incorporating climate change projections into Google Earth to help users visualize the future with warming. For example, it shows the predicted iceless North Pole in the year 2050 if projections of 40 deg. C temperatures hold true.
Google is also focusing its efforts on the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. The goal of this organization is to work with companies such as AMD and Intel to cut computer power requirements in half by 2010. This would be equivalent of taking 11 million cars off the road in terms of carbon emission cuts.
Mr. Schmidt also says there's a need for power grid innovation. He says the decrepit power grid currently has 9 percent efficiency loss, by his calculations. This could be eliminated by restructuring the grid and adopting more technologies where customers can feed power back into the grid at times of peak use. He suggests plug-ins charge at night, then by day put their power back into the grid when unused, forming a sort of battery network.
He describes, "I could imagine a smart garage where I would plug in my car and the computer handles it. I could even make money by cost shifting. It sure sounds to me like a problem for the Internet...and personal computers. It's the largest opportunity I could possibly imagine. It solves energy security, energy prices and job creation...and by the way, climate change."