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Google Campus to Become Solar-powered 394

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the off-the-grid dept.
prostoalex writes "Reuters is reporting that Google is equipping its headquarters with a solar panel 'capable of generating 1.6 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 1,000 California homes.' This will make Google's Mountain View campus the largest solar-powered office complex in the United States."
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Google Campus to Become Solar-powered

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  • Big deal (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:22AM (#16464029)
    The wastful fuel they burn by flying that 747 of theirs around just for fun has a larger negative effect that the benefits this will bring.
  • Re:Commendable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JymmyZ (655273) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:32AM (#16464119)
    I don't think there's enough space in all of California that could be covered in the solar panels needed to power their data centers. Maybe if they bought New Mexico and turned it into one big panel array though.
  • by misleb (129952) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:39AM (#16464173)
    Still, 1.6 Megawatts is impressive... for solar power.

  • by the_weasel (323320) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:46AM (#16464225) Homepage
    Pretty sure the grandparent was making a Matrix reference there......though I admit the 'future' scenes in Terminator 2 didn't seem to show the kind of environment where sunscreen played a big role in anyones life.

  • by Karloskar (980435) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:49AM (#16464253)
    pretty powerful nuclear furnace.

    I think the boys from They Might Be Giants summed it up best.

    The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
    A gigantic nuclear furnace
    Where hydrogen is built into helium
    At a temperature of millions of degrees

    Yo ho, it's hot, the sun is not
    A place where we could live
    But here on Earth there'd be no life
    Without the light it gives

    We need its light
    We need its heat
    We need its energy
    Without the sun, without a doubt
    There'd be no you and me

    The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
    A gigantic nuclear furnace
    Where hydrogen is built into helium
    At a temperature of millions of degrees

    The sun is hot

    It is so hot that everything on it is a
    gas: iron, copper, aluminum, and many others.

    The sun is large

    If the sun were hollow, a million
    Earths could fit inside. And yet, the
    sun is only a middle-sized star.

    The sun is far away

    About 93 million miles away, and that's why it
    looks so small.

    And even when it's out of sight
    The sun shines night and day

    The sun gives heat
    The sun gives light
    The sunlight that we see
    The sunlight comes from our own sun's
    Atomic energy

    Scientists have found that the sun is a huge
    atom-smashing machine. The heat and light of
    the sun come from the nuclear reactions of
    hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and helium.

    The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
    A gigantic nuclear furnace
    Where hydrogen is built into helium
    At a temperature of millions of degrees
  • Payback? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nick9000 (960604) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:55AM (#16464281)
    I wonder what the energy payback period is expected to be? I've heard up to thirty years for solar panels, which has always put me off because I would guess in 5-10 years there will be improvements in the amount of energy a panel can produce.
  • by dilvish_the_damned (167205) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @02:05AM (#16464353) Journal
    Did we cross the threshold of solar panel arrays giving off more power before the MTBF than it takes to create them? If not then this is just showing off, or maybe more simply some exeutive being missguided. Its just google being wastfull.
    It happens when your rich, I suppose.
  • by porkThreeWays (895269) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @02:14AM (#16464397)
    Yes, but 1.6 megawatts is no small feat.

    Also, it's like people who drive hybrid cars. True, the sum of all hybrid cars have little effect on the total problems of pollution and foreign oil. However, sometimes as a human you say "I don't want to be a part of the problem. I may not be able to change others' minds, but at least I'm not contributing to the worlds problems".

    And it's google so I'm sure they'll put a bunch of engineers on the problem and come up with a solution no one's ever thought of. Like a solar panel that produces energy, makes delicious tofu, and gives handjobs and watermelon.
  • What this takes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @02:55AM (#16464589) Homepage

    OK. One square meter of solar panel is typically good for 130 watts at peak, but only about 655 watt hours per day, or 27 watts averaged over 24 hours. In other words, the average power is about 20% of the peak. So, to get 1.6 megawatts average power, you need about 60,000 square meters of panel, or an area 245 meters square. This is about two football fields of area, or three Wal-Mart Supercenter roofs.

    A typical price for a good solar panel today is about $1000 for 160 watts peak. So to get 1.6 * 5 = 8 megawatts peak power, you need 50,000 of those panels, or about $50 million worth of panels. Batteries, inverters, and installation extra. (I suspect that Google is talking about 1.6MW of peak capacity, but that's a phony number to compare to other energy sources that can run 24 hours a day.)

    There are already data centers that draw 30 megawatts continuous. That would take about a billion dollars worth of solar panels to power.

    And by power plant standards, 30MW is dinky. Commercial power plants today run around a gigawatt.

  • Re:Yawn! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Don_dumb (927108) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @02:56AM (#16464593)
    You do realize how short sighted that economic view is, dont you?

    How expensive does oil/coal etc have to get before this saves money? In the short term this may cost money, but it does after all provide a renewable and free resource.
    It is just like double glazed windows, for the first few years the total cost is greater, but you are always saving money and after some years the saving has outweighed the cost of replacing the windows. This break even comes much sooner when you factor in the always increasing cost of finite energy.
  • by l3v1 (787564) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @03:01AM (#16464613)
    Cost Savings

    Cost savings, cost savings, cost saving... This is why humanity's lifespan as we know it will be much shorter than it could've been. It should not be just about the money and cost saving, but about nature saving, resource saving, human saving.

    Any company who deploys renewable energy sources as a partial or total replacement, gets my support.

    And, this news is proof for one more thing: geeks should have more money, they can do the coolest things.
  • by aussie_a (778472) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @03:10AM (#16464659) Journal
    It's bird shit, who cares?

    Wouldn't enough of it end up reducing the effectiveness of the panels?
  • by nigham (792777) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @03:47AM (#16464821) Homepage
    A major problem cited with developing nations is lack of infrastructure - a large part of which is power. By validating and making use of such technology common, it would be far easier to set up shop outside the US.
  • by kestasjk (933987) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:01AM (#16465203) Homepage
    The problem is solar panels are still environmentally messy. The energy they produce is clean, but making them requires very toxic, environmentally damaging chemicals, and Google will be needing a lot of it.
  • by julesh (229690) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:04AM (#16465539)
    It should not be just about the money and cost saving, but about nature saving, resource saving, human saving.

    Cost is often a reasonably good indicator of resource requirements. Scarce resources put costs up while common ones drive it down.
  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:39AM (#16465759) Journal
    Unlike YouTube, which was paid for with their overvalued, overhyped stock (and therefore, 1.6bn of 'shirt buttons' rather than real money), they are actually going to have to pay for this installation with real money.
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:56AM (#16465853)
    One Point Six Megawatts.

    Now your average square yard (or square meter, close enuf) solar panel can, if at right angles to the Sun, on a clear day, can put out maybe 160 watts.

    So they could be planning on having 1,600,000 / 160, or ten thousand solar panels.

    That's a pretty big number.

    Now let's see if this is cost effective in any way:

    Let's say they can get a quantity discount and can bargain the price down to, say, $1,000 each. (Current prices, with installation, are somewhere around $4,500, so we're being generous).

    And let's also assume all the ancillary folderol of DC to AC converters costs only another 20% (probably closer to 40% in real life).

    So we're talking about $1,200 per panel, $120,000,000 for the whole shebang. Chump change for Google.

    Actually, literally "chump Change".

    Becuz those panels, over a 24-hour average, although they can peak out at 160 watts each, if you take into account unavoidable things like "night" and "clouds", the average power is closer to 15 to 30 watts.

    Now scientists tell us there are about 8760 hours in a year. Thirty watts for a year is about 263,000 watt-hours, or lets round it up to 300 kilowatt-hours. Multiply it by the number of panels, and that's an impressive 3,000,000 kilowatt hours. At a rate of 10 cents each, they can save $300,000 a year. If we are extremely optimistic, and assume the panels will last 15 years, they will save $4,500,000 over their lifetime.

    "Good for the environment", at a first glance. "Gives you warm and fuzzy feelings", for sure.

    Of course, if you do the math, $120 million spent, a return of $4.5 mil, that's not so good if you're an accountant.

    It's actually worse than that, as if you keep the $120 million in the bank, it will garner at least $54 million at just 3% interest, risk free, leaving $174 million in the bank. So Google will lose about $170 million on this project.

    But if you are a STOCKHOLDER in the CORPORATION, you should be apalled. One Hundred Seventty Million Dollars down the drain. Your Money.

    Even if energy prices QUADRUPLED over the next 15 years, they will still lose over $120 million. Yipes.

    If I owned any Google stock, I'd be pissed.

  • by Yonder Way (603108) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:12AM (#16466351)
    Your prices are way off for PV panels. It didn't take me more than 60 seconds to find . Quantities of 12x panels that peak at 175W, $810 each. About $4.63 per watt (peak) Google will be purchasing in larger volumes than this and will no doubt get a much better price. But at this price point, the PV panels alone would be about $139M for a 30MW peak production array. []

    Google will realize tax writeoffs for the whole thing, a one-time tax credit (or perhaps they will find a way to make the tax credit apply at a lower amount over multiple years), and above and beyond that they will see significantly reduced site power bills.

    The next thing they need to be looking at is average power consumption per employee and find more efficient ways to work. Putting a PC on every desk is wasteful. One fat LTSP server per department (or for multiple departments!) and a thin client on every desk would be more than enough for most people. I did this at another shop a few years ago and it worked great. It's a real shame that most people are stuck in a rut and won't try a new way of doing things .

    OK it's not a new way of doing things. The idea itself is really very old. But the technology has caught up with the idea, and it's now a very workable idea, unlike the old X terminal toasters of the early 1990's running on 10Mbps ethernet with lousy graphics chipsets and poor performance, with a couple of dozen people sharing a SPARCstation 5 (not enough machine for one person, let along 12).
  • Re:Great! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sillybilly (668960) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @09:08AM (#16466963)
    I was gonna say just that, that energy storage is the bigger issue than production, especially with wind and solar power, that are intermittent, though solar delivers energy while the people are at work, and when it gets dark, people go home, but still, you need keep the buidlings lit in the dark, or do you? Anyway, I think their solar panels will just be grid-tied, and not much local storage will be implemented, besides some backup power supplies and, guess what, generators that burn gas. And by the way I don't think supercapacitors can store that much energy, their advantage is burst load, they deliver fast, but limited capacity, and using it in say, a car, I'm guessing you'd probably get a less than 10 mile range with the top of the line supercapacitors, as opposed to 150 miles with heavy lead acid batteries that make the car sink through the asphalt, and 300 miles with conventional hydrocarbon storage that keeps the car light.
  • by Dare nMc (468959) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @09:53AM (#16467745)
    >the ratio of Energy Returned over Energy Input for solar is less than 1
    what is the ER/EI for power from a power plant? seams you must add in the cost of building power lines, maintaining them, sacrificing land, and how much more copper,etc is used for conventional power than the solar power? Now thanks to varius government enties picking up much of that infrustrucute cost (paid out of taxes, not covered by those paid in your power bill) you can't base the cost just on whats cheaper. Don't forget about defending these infrustuctures from evil doers...

    I am sure someone will say, but those lines exist. Well not completly for the infrustucture size that Google is constantly outgrowing.
    It also seams that since you can stack much of the solar panel on buildings, etc, where as the power lines must be spread out, is where I think the space cost of conventional power is actually greater.
  • by richardneish (464862) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @10:33AM (#16468479)
    I applaud Google for taking these steps, but reading between the lines here's another way to look at this:

    From the article: The solar array will be "... capable of generating 1.6 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 1,000 California homes" however, "the company will rely on solar power to supply nearly a third of the electricity consumed by office workers at its roughly one-million-square-foot headquarters" (emphasis added).

    The way I read that, the Google campus uses over 4.8 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power over 3,000 California homes, just for the offices, excluding the server farms and data centres.

    Alternate energy sources are great and I'm all for them, but the only long term solution is to be smarter about energy use and use less of it. For example, I've recently replaced my home PC with one using a Pentium M motherboard and cut my PC power consumption in half. Similarly, turning off devices instead of putting them on standby, and taking other measures such as replacing lightbulbs with low-energy bulbs all helps reduce my personal energy consumption.

    In a business context, how about turning off office lights at night or going for motion sensor solutions so you aren't lighting empty space? Encouraging employees to turn off workstations overnight, etc. I've no idea if Google does something along these lines already, this isn't an attack on them.

    My 2 cents.

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"