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Google yesterday gained federal authority to buy and sell power in the U.S., granting it essentially the same status as a power utility. Google's headquarters is seen here blanketed in solar panels.  (Source: Goozner Solar)

Google could eventually use the approval to sell renewable energy directly to U.S. consumers.  (Source: Wind Revolution)
Traditional power utilities have a new competitor

The world of power utilities in the U.S. is a story of old business.  The corporate landscape is almost as stale as America's power grid -- there's little fresh blood.  

That could soon change.  Adding to the shakeup that began earlier this week with President Obama's decision to back new U.S. nuclear construction with guaranteed loan funding, Google yesterday received approval [PDF] by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to become an open market seller and buyer of energy.

While the decision of Google to enter the power business may seem a strange one, it actually makes sense.  The search business (as well as Google's numerous other services) require vast farms of servers to power billions of requests worldwide.  These data centers using a tremendous amount of power.  Thus it's in Google's best interest to try to ensure reliable, affordable power.

Google also will look to use its newfound abilities to make good on its motto "do no evil" by adopting power from renewable sources.  Thanks to the approval, the company can now directly buy power from renewable energy installation, rather than having to purchase it second-hand through a utility.

The company, which has invested in numerous alternative energy projects of its own, could even enter the power production business eventually.  In its application Google requested the authority to "act as a power marketer, purchasing electricity and reselling it to wholesale customers."

In the short term, Google has "no plans" to sell power according to Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick, speaking to 
The Wall Street Journal last month.  She states in a recent email, "We made this filing so we can have more flexibility in procuring power for Google's own operations, including our data centers.  FERC authority will improve our ability to hedge our purchases of energy and incorporate renewables into our energy portfolio."

The company's foremost objective is carbon neutrality -- emitting no more carbon than it takes in.  Google has already employed diverse means to achieve this goal.  It has used goats to mow the lawns of its California facilities and has invested in unusual sources of alternative energy, such as deep geothermal and high energy wind power.

Google currently has no wholesale electrical generation or transmission facilities according to its filing.





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