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Google Businesses The Internet Power

Google Goes Green 374

Posted by kdawson
from the all-that-and-carbon-neutral-too dept.
foobsr writes "Google today announced its RE<C project to make renewable energy cheaper than coal in the near future. The company, and its charitable arm google.org, plan to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the initiative. Larry Page stated: 'With talented technologists, great partners and significant investments, we hope to rapidly push forward. Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades.'"
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Google Goes Green

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  • by DeeQ (1194763) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:02AM (#21503359)
    1.21 gigawatts? 1.21 gigawatts? Great Scott!
    • by skoaldipper (752281) <skoalstr8@NosPAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:07AM (#21503403)
      Professor Page, are you telling me you built a tiiiime machine, out of a Priiiiius?!
    • Re:Great scott! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:09AM (#21503419) Journal
      Coal, and fossil fuels in general, are widely recognized to be almost at, at, or past peak production on a global level, and will therefore become increasingly scarce, and therefore increasingly expensive, as time goes by.

      Therefore, anyone wishing to create renewable energy more cost effective than coal doesn't need to do anything beyond keep trying and not get worse, and they will get there eventually.

      As far as technical challenges go, this is right up there with "hitting the ground".
      • by Calinous (985536)
        As coal cost increases, energy cost will increase too. This will drive the cost of anything up - so, while your "cost per energy" target is shifting down, your "cost to build a power generating facility" goes up.
              Still, more ups than downs
      • Re:Great scott! (Score:5, Informative)

        by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @10:23AM (#21504077) Journal
        Peak Oil [google.com] is debated - have we already reached it, will it be in 10 years, 20 years? I tend to think we are living through it more or less now. However, I heard a representative from BP speak recently [dartmouth.edu] that indicated that, if demand drives the cost of oil up enough, there's enough tar sands and oil shale out there to push peak oil back a long ways. Sure, that's BP talking, and oil shale and tar sands are shit kinds of energy, but it is a facet of the debate.

        Peak Coal, on the other hand, is decades or centuries off. The United States has enough coal reserves [wikipedia.org] that we could be energy independent for a few hundred years. China, India, and Russia have lots of reserves [google.com], too.

        Of course, there are prohibitive problems with becoming an all-coal energy economy for a few hundred years. I advocate that we move away from coal (and oil) as fast as possible. The point is, though, that there's still a lot of coal out there.
        • by encoderer (1060616) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:30AM (#21504865)
          The US and other major world economies already went thru this "Peak Oil" crisis, although they didn't use that specific term at the time. Nevertheless, there were no shortage of educated economists predicting absolute DOOM for civilization. Economies would crumble. Our way of life would regress. Nothing short of disaster.

          Of course, as has often been a trait of humanity, we rose to the occasion and, true to form, Peak Whale Oil [energybulletin.net] was not the disaster so many thought it would be. Why? The biggest reason, of course, was the ingenuity of American business to not just lie down and die, but to innovate. They found that the black liquid bubbling up from the ground could be tapped as a brand new energy source, and they built out the huge infrastructure that was needed to make it happen.

          The same thing will happen again. Nobody is going to just lie down as our world falls apart. If for no other reason than there's a (huge) buck to be made in preventing that.

          Don't under estimate the powers of greed and self-preservation.
      • Re:Great scott! (Score:5, Informative)

        by GooberToo (74388) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @10:41AM (#21504287)
        are widely recognized to be almost at, at, or past peak production on a global level,

        I find it interesting that so many people have such a poor concept of the current situation. What people fail to recognize is that we are artificially reaching peak production. Contrary to popular belief, the world's most cost effective refinery was shut down less than a decade ago. No new refineries in the US are being built. Keep this in mind when you contrast this with the fact that more oil is currently known to exist than any other time in human history and its widely believed huge undiscovered reserves have yet to be located.

        Right now, artificial scarcity is causing production peaks. Artificial scarcity helps keep fuel prices high so oil companies have zero incentive to create new refineries. What most people also fail to understand is crude comes in varying qualities. The per barrel price you constantly see quoted represents the highest grade crude. What you don't see is the "junk" crude is often half or a quarter the price. The low quality crude can be processed but requires special refineries. In the US, we only have one or two refineries which can process high sulfur crude. Processing high sulfur crude is actually equally profitable but requires additional investment from the oil community a it requires expansion in processing capability.

        Long story short, there is actually zero factual information to suggest we are anywhere near peak. What the misinformed often quote as peak are simply observing artificial limitations which are kept in check by the oil companies and further compounded by their refusal to increase production capabilities while having reduced capabilities less than a decade ago. The only question is, how much are you willing to pay for your fuel?

        With oil prices as they are now, most of the known oil sources become viable, but again, no one wants to do that because what is already available is far more profitable. And heck, if you can use up your competition's supply, it makes your reserve all the more valuable down the road.

        Is greed really so easily confused for peak production?

        • Re:Great scott! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by keithjr (1091829) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @10:51AM (#21504405)
          Is greed really so easily confused for peak production?

          Either way, the correct course of action is still strikingly clear. Move away from it. As quickly as possible. Either we escape an artificially-created economic sink, or we reduce our dependence on a an energy source that is in its twilight. Win-Win, if you ask me.
        • Re:Great scott! (Score:5, Informative)

          by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:29AM (#21504863) Homepage
          Good points.

          Part of the problem is that we don't have an accurate accounting of how much oil is left in the easy-to-get-to locations. The middle eastern sources are depleting, but they refuse to acknowledge how much. Every year they say that the amount of oil left in the ground is the same as it was the previous year. This is because they are limited in how much they can extract by international treaties. If they can only extract 5% a year, then the only way they can keep production up is to claim that the amount of oil is the same. So they lie. We may find that those oil fields run dry all of a sudden and nobody knew it was going to happen.

          As you point out, other sources can be exploited - but it requires investment and time to setup. And unless we know how much is left in the easy sources it is hard to gauge when to invest in the hard ones. In the end, it doesn't matter: We need to move to renewable for this reason, and 1000 others.
        • Re:Great scott! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by killbill! (154539) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:37AM (#21504975) Homepage
          Nonsense. You're confusing the price of crude oil and the price of gasoline in your argument.

          Artificially reducing refinery capacity does reduce gasoline supply - which definitely increases the price of gasoline. BUT it also reduces the demand for crude oil - which lowers its price!

          And yet, the price of crude oil not only has gone up, but it has gone up faster than gasoline prices this year (http://www.wtrg.com/daily/oilandgasspot.html). I suspect you might have to further refine your crude conspiracy theory. ;)
        • Re:Great scott! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @12:26PM (#21505775) Homepage
          Sorry, but I have to disagree.
          1. The current problem with rapidly escalating oil prices is not related to US refinery capacity. If the bottleneck was at the refinery level, crude would be cheap and gasoline would be expensive. In fact, both are expensive.

          2. A statement like "more oil is currently known to exist than any other time in human history" is absurd, and I wonder how you arrived at it. We don't know how much oil exists, partly because some of it is - as you say - "undiscovered", ie we think it might be out there but we don't know for sure - but mostly because OPEC lie about the size of their remaining reserves. Data quality in the oil industry is poor to non-existant. We don't even have accurate figures for how much we pump out of the ground each day, let alone how much we have left.

          3. You are confused about the pricing of sour crudes. Yes, they are cheaper, but not significantly so. The spot price of Mexican Maya on the 16th was $79, only about $10-$12 less than the price of the high quality stuff. Given that oil used to cost $10-$12 the fact that sour has risen to slightly less than sweet is really of no consequence.

          4. You say there's no factual information to indicate that we're at peak. But world production has been flat since the summer of 2004, despite progressively increasing prices (due to increased demand from Asia) providing every incentive to pump more. This behavior has not been seen before and strongly suggests that world production capacity is maxed out - there are huge wins to be had by any company or country that can significantly boost production, but doing an analysis of an oil major like ExxonMobil, will show that their existing fields decline as fast as they can replace them. To me this is a pretty good sign that we're at peak - inability to raise production despite huge demand.

          5. The whole "it's an oil industry conspiracy" won't wash, sorry. This isn't like the computer industry where one or two companies can dominate the landscape - oil is a commodity, and the price is not set by the oil companies but by supply and demand. It's the simplest market you can get. Anybody who is sitting on top of a giant oil field right now would be an idiot to leave it for tomorrow, because there's no guarantee we'll want that oil tomorrow - maybe there's a recession and oil demand is reduced. Maybe we discover better ways to power our cars.

            Right now there's a lead-in time of at least 5 years from discovering a field to first commercial oil, sometimes longer. Even if you start today, there is risk. If you leave it longer, the risk gets even bigger. At least for private oil companies, there are huge financial incentives to boost production and thus get a leg up over your competitors in stock price and profits. To claim that the entire industry is in a cartel to deliberately hold back production is to reveal your lack of knowledge around discovery trends, skills shortages and the impact on depletion rates of modern production techniques like horizontal wells/waterflooding.

        • by microbox (704317) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @01:32PM (#21506821)
          Keep this in mind when you contrast this with the fact that more oil is currently known to exist than any other time in human history and its widely believed huge undiscovered reserves have yet to be located.

          fyi, nobody is investing in new oil refineries, because noone in their right mind would invest $$$ when they won't get a return on capitol. The market has spoken - the market says there isn't money to be made from more refineries. That's probably because you'd have to run it for 10 years to break-even, and in 10 years time, our refining capacity may outstrip supply. Either that, or there's a massive organised world-wide conspiricy, to keep gold cookies out away from intelligent negative people.

          Long story short, there is actually zero factual information to suggest we are anywhere near peak

          Ignore the factual information. There's *lots* of oil. Jedi waves hand.

          If the oil companies are conspiring to do anything, it's that they want to sell you *more* oil and *now*. That's because it's good for their bottom line. So go to the gas station and fill up, dump in the river and fill up again! Don't worry about future scarcity! We want your money NOW! and if we make money it's good for the economy, so it _must_ be good for you too!

          There's an apt saying: "Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity". As I see it, the oil companies aren't capable of the type of conspiricy you suggest. It's too easy to shine light on their FUD. For example, the chamber of echos that exxon has created to suggest that there's *lots* of scientists who don't believe in the human impact on climate change. Some are fooled, anyone who cares to look it not.

          And on the bright side - if you're right - and the oil companies are delibertly trying *not* to sell more oil (falls down laughing), then they're doing humanity a service on so many different levels:
          • Increased price restricts demand - pushes back peak. Just like the 70s crisis screwed up Huberts original projection for world peak in the 90s
          • Increased public awareness on the oil issue (it hits the wallet), means policy changes and *research* into alternatives
          • Alternatives become more attractive - the energy economy is diversified
          • Who knows - maybe the decrease in oil sales will translate into total less greenhouse gasses this year

          Energy prices have been too low for too long. If an energy crunch happens, it will mean severe economic adjustment (and hardship) that could have been mitigated by a more frugle policy to energy usage. Such policies could help the economy slowly make the necessary structural changes. Such policies fly can only exist when the future becomes more important than satisfying immediate wants. I'm not holding my breath - too many people with a sense of entitlement - that they should have what they want, and have it now. Humanities current flirtation with greed has nothing to do with malice, and everything to do with stupidty.

  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by tgd (2822) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:02AM (#21503361)
    The solution to this problem must be out on the internet somewhere... if only I had a website I could use to try to find it...
  • Vested interest (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gilesjuk (604902) <.giles.jones. .at. .zen.co.uk.> on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:02AM (#21503369)
    Given how much money it costs to keep Google's kit running, it's in their interests to look for cheaper energy. It's an investment they hope will increase future profitability.

    Has Bill Gates or Steve Jobs made any similar pledges?
    • by Yoozer (1055188) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:22AM (#21503531) Homepage
      Jobs doesn't have to make pledges; they just have to figure out how to convert the radiation of his reality distortion field to energy, and to use the pressure of the smugness from his customers to power iPods. Ballmer is currently busy with research to tap heat from system administrator's heads when updating, and he's already made great strides to put the kinetic energy of chairs in something useful.
    • by Shivetya (243324) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:31AM (#21503615) Homepage Journal
      Name their companies. Even then, does it matter? Most of this Google press release is simple headline grabbing. Where are the dollar figures of what is going where? Are they working alongside other large companies trying to do the same or cherry picking companies they can snap up later for their investment?

      Frankly Gates doesn't have to do anything in the renewable energy market, what he is doing through his foundation is saving more lives than can be counted, not exploiting current pc trends towards "everything global warming", doing proven work that benefits people today. Hell, his foundation is more important than Microsoft in my book. Trade some "evil" here for worlds of good elsewhere.

      As for Apple, they list many iniatives. Why do they have to be energy related to qualify for points? They do a lot in the recycling arena. They make a big thing out of ensuring their equipment is recyclable and is moving to using non-dangerous/polluting means of making it.

      • by Zebra_X (13249)
        "As for Apple, they list many iniatives"

        Name some, I checked and Jobs and Apple don't have their name attached to any significant level of giving. Out of the three, Apple is by far the worst in terms of philanthropy.
        • I'm presuming that they also generate (far?) less profit, so why should they be expected to be giving more away than Google or Microsoft? Most people thought Apple was going to die until the iPod became such a success, and they're currently driving back into the OS business. Google just bypassed all that hardware and OS stuff and jumped right into a gaping hole in the internet (decent search) and have managed to make a lot of money from the amount of traffic that they command. The recycling thing and the f
      • by TargetBoy (322020)

        Frankly Gates doesn't have to do anything in the renewable energy market, what he is doing through his foundation is saving more lives than can be counted, not exploiting current pc trends towards "everything global warming", doing proven work that benefits people today. Hell, his foundation is more important than Microsoft in my book. Trade some "evil" here for worlds of good elsewhere.

        The harsh reality is that the more people that survive, the more resources are consumed. Earth is a zero sum game and we

        • by Bluesman (104513) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @10:09AM (#21503925) Homepage
          "Earth is a zero sum game"

          That's simply not true, and renewable resources (plants, trees, etc.) are evidence of that. We are not a zero sum game because we have, for all intents and purposes, an inexhaustible supply of energy from the sun. Think back through the chain --> sun causes plants to grow, animals eat plants, etc. We're all solar powered, ultimately.

          More efficient exploitation of that energy results in an increase in available resources. Sure, there's a limit, but we have even begun to tap into it, even with existing technology.

          That's why projects like Google's are important. Any increase in efficient production of renewable energy ensures that we continue to not be a zero sum game.

          There may come a point where no further technological innovation is possible, but it looks like when we get to that advanced state that the population will contract voluntarily. Witness the below-replacement birth rates in first world countries.

      • Gate's foundation is an attempt to make ppl like him. It was thought up by his wife ( a marketer ) . How much good does it do? meh. Yes, it spends money on such things as aids research. A little here, and a little there. It is designed to impact the largest market.

        But Gates has billions at his disposal. If he wanted to make a bigger impact on the world, he would do things that are beyond other VCs (and even most gov). In particular, he could push massive reaseach/development on Alternative energy. Or how a
      • Gate's foundation, while noble, is a bit like throwing money in to a black hole.
        It costs a awful lot for little net difference. People will keep getting sick.

        Google's plans are in their best interests so they will wok hard on it and when completed, it will have a massive impact around the world.
        Even third world countries can use cheap clean energy.

        Google will help everybody instead of a select few.
    • It also takes a lot of energy to run chicken plants and high schools and baseball stadiums, but I don't see a lot of companies making the same investment. Our government, especially, should already be doing this.
      • by jimicus (737525)
        Relatively few chicken plants, high schools and baseball stadiums operate in many parts of the world. Many of them can save energy in various ways like improving insualation, switching to low energy light bulbs.

        Google can't do a great deal about the fact that thousands of PCs between them draw a lot of power.
  • Nuk-u-lar (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Orne (144925) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:03AM (#21503379) Homepage
    Spent fuel -> breeder reactor -> fissionable fuel, and it's already cheaper than coal.

    Oh wait, we don't like that kind of renewable resource...

    • by tgd (2822)
      While I agree with you, that really should be the focus short term, I think you may have a bit of an underestimation of the costs of nuclear or a huge overestimation of the costs of coal. Only if you were adding in taxes or other expenses to cover 100% of the carbon emissions would the two even be close. Coal is *cheap*. Thats why its used so much.
      • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:26AM (#21503581) Journal
        "Clean" coal is still extremly dirty, EVEN if you ignore the carbon issue. For instance, Clinton had passed a law that was going to force ALL of America's coal plants to cut way back on mercury emissoins. W. killed that almost right away when he took over. The reason is that it was estimated to jump electric prices up by 25%. Bear in mind that Clinton's clean up would not have stopped the mercury, just cut it in half. Right now, even in America, we do not do a good job of cleaning up our emissions, BECAUSE of the costs. And countries like China simply skip it all togehter, even though they have billions in the bank and are giving it to other countries to obtain their resources.

        Best thing that America can do is get off coal (and natural gas is not the way to go, but better than coal). Nukes would help.
        • by will_die (586523)
          Clinton never passed a mercury emissions law, and President Bush could not of just killed it if he had. What Clinton did was in December 2000, after Bush has already been elected, was rush out a proposal that according to scientists was technically impossible to achive, besides being extremly expensive. The Clinton proposal was draft only.
          Back in 2003 Bush did put out a proposal that could of setup cap and trade policy with a 40% reduction by 2010 and 70% by 2018, when passed, the first ever rules regula
    • A figure I have heard which I can provide absolutely no reference for suggests that there is enough Uranium on the planet for about 30 years, were it to totally replace current energy production. I'd be interested in an accurate figure.
      The point being the whole renewable thing. Yes, breeder reactors wring the last of the energy out of the original source but ultimately the source dries up/cools down whatever you get the picture. A renewable source is one not dependant on a finite resource.
      As to sustaina
      • Re:Nuk-u-lar (Score:5, Interesting)

        by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:37AM (#21503653) Journal
        The 30 years assume that ALL power came from the CHEAP uranium AND that we use the current inefficient approach to using it.

        First issue is that there is plenty of uranium on this planet to power the world using current tech for a long time. The reason is that even in the oceans there is uranium.

        Bear in mind, that with current approaches to reactors, we use about 2% of the power, and then we waste the rest (which is the reason why it takes 10's of thousands of years to cool down). OTH, if you use a breeder reactor, and keep the cycle going, then you use up about 98-99% of the energy (leaving a small residual that is cool within 150 years). In fact, here in America, if we could switch ALL power to IFR (integral fast reactors), AND had electric cars, AND kept everything inefficient, we would have enough uranium/plutonium in waste that we would not need to dig or buy anything for the next 100 years.

        Estimates are that there is about 10000 years of Uranium if it supplies ALL of the worlds energy needs. After that is burned there is thorium, or h2-3. Point being that nukes will last quit a long time.
        • Not trying to start a war here, but isn't this level extraction (98-99%) beyond current tech?
          As far as I know, (IANANP though that should be obvious), we still are left with plutonium-239 as a waste product, and while there are some charming countries willing to buy it off me for cash I'm not sure I want to sell it, yet where in the name of Mary's tit do I put it safely for the next 24K years?

          I would have thought renewable meant tidal/wave/wind/solar depending on your location/climate, as a bonus the c

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Artraze (600366)
        > breeder reactors wring the last of the energy out of the original source but
        > ultimately the source dries up/cools down whatever you get the picture. A
        > renewable source is one not dependant on a finite resource.

        That's a decent argument, but you need to understand just what a breeder reactor can do.

        U-235 is the only natural fissile material, which sucks because it's only about 0.75% of elemental uranium. U-238, which isn't fissile, makes up the remaining 99+% and is basically just dead weight.
        • by Muad'Dave (255648)
          According to some estimates [berkeley.edu], using an IFR would extend the lifetime of currently-mined Uranium to 500 years, and global supplies of nuclear fuels to over 100,000 years.

          There is sufficient fuel to power IFR type facilities for well over 100 thousand years. This results because the IFR is a breeder reactor which can utilize uranium 238. Today's reactors only use uranium 235 which is less than 1% of the uranium found in nature. The IFR, with its fuel reprocessing capability, can use all the uranium. There is e

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by thanatos_x (1086171)
      I want to say there was an article about a week ago on Slashdot debating this issue (of the return of nuclear power plants.) I wouldn't swear on it, but I believe the capital outlay for a new nuclear plant is 3-5 times that of a coal plant for similar production (in addition to needing to be located near a body of water.) The cost for the fuel is less (although as demand would rise this could change).

      Factoring in the long run cost of running the plant and the externalities of said plant, nuclear is likely t
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Muad'Dave (255648)
      Some links:

      Why are we ignoring this technology???

    • and it's already cheaper than coal.
      until you include the cost of decomissioning the nuclear power station at end of life and then, suddenly, it's very expensive.
  • gMatrix (Score:3, Funny)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:04AM (#21503383) Homepage
    It's going to be some sort of "matrix" where google plugs us all in and harvests renewable energy AND our personal info.
    • Re:gMatrix (Score:5, Insightful)

      by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:31AM (#21503621) Journal
      The machines in The Matrix story were so dumb.

      Skies darkened to block out the Sun so that their solar power sources would be negated? Well, duh. What was stopping them from building taller solar power collectors that were above the black stuff? Neo and Trinity penetrated the layer, didn't they?

      Alternatively, they could have used whatever power source the remaining free humans were using: Zion wasn't powered by human batteries, was it?

      Worst Plot Hole Ever.
      • Uh, duh, they're environmentally friendly machines descended from the original Googlebot...
      • Not to mention that the humans' biological energy had to come from food, which, working up the food chain, gets energy from the sun.

        So in order to be extra evil and nasty, they lost energy on every step of the food chain instead of getting it straight from solar.

        Yeah that part was dumb.

  • Go Google (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheMeuge (645043) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:05AM (#21503389)
    These are the kinds of initiatives that one can applaud when they're coming from a public company. Interestingly, this isn't just an idle PR stunt, or vain charity. While Google expects to invest "tens of millions" into pilot projects, they also are committing themselves to investing "hundreds of millions" into those projects that are likely to yield positive returns.

    I have spent so long lamenting the short-sightedness of American business, that it's easy to overlook the fact that at least some companies are willing to stake their immediate earnings on potentially much greater gains in the future. It's therefore very nice to see Google at the forefront of energy innovation because, let's face it, as a geek, that's exactly where I'd be pouring a fair portion of my post-billionaire funds. That and space... but alas Brin hasn't decided to finance his own airospace company YET...
    • by nschubach (922175)
      Must... register.... Googlenautics.com before someone else does.
    • Re:Go Google (Score:4, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:24AM (#21503553) Homepage Journal
      Two bad the spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a private 767. I am not even and extremist when it comes to things like that. Hey if they wanted a private jet a Gulfstream IV is very nice as is the Citation X. A converted airliner that could carry well over 200 people for your private toy.
      Well it makes Hummer owners look down right green.
      I guess the non billionaires need to save energy.
      • by Ed Avis (5917)
        Isn't the 767 bought by the founders of Google with their own money? It would be a bit fishy if bought by Google.
      • You havent seen Dubai have you? :P

        Spending a bit for a luxury company jet isnt bad.
        Its a drop in the pond when compared to how much cash Google has.
    • by JBMcB (73720)
      Google will probably see a return in the long run. I'm guessing that, next to HR, electricity is probably their second largest expense. Cheaper electricity == cheaper cost of operations. It's good for everybody, except companies that run coal power plants.
  • by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:10AM (#21503421) Homepage Journal
    The part I don't understand is how Google plans on tracking how consumers utilize this electricity, so they can in turn display targeted advertising through AdSense and Gmail. Surely I'm missing something.

    Dan East
  • There are plenty of players in the solar and wind space. OTH, if they pursue geo-thermal energy, USA could have 200-400 GW of energy within a short time (1-2 decades).

    In addition, it would be good if could push geo-thermal heating/cooling of business/residential. Right now, HVAC accounts for more than 50% of a places utility bill (and back east, it can account for 75%). In fact, the recent action of placing a data center in a coal mine is the right idea.

    By spending just a bit of money on these 2 items,
    • Transmission losses is another target. A lot of electricity is lost on the grid due to the efficiency of conductors. The invention and procution a super-conducting transmission system would allow us to recover that lost energy.
    • by pragma_x (644215)
      Mod parent up.

      Solar power, and it's derivitave forms (wind and hydroelectric), have limitations based on geography, climate and land use (solar panels on crop land = bad). Geothermal has the one advantage that it's technically feasable anywhere, provided you can dig deep enough.

      All that's needed is for industry to re-direct its resouces from drilling for oil, to drilling for hot rocks. While I'm sure its not as simple as all that, its still nice to know that we don't necessarily have to invent anything wi
  • It's just a matter of time until the cost of coal rises to a higher level than the cost of renewables, google could just sit back and watch if they wanted to and their goal would still be met.
  • Just one gigawatt? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:25AM (#21503559)
    I would've thought it was easy to produce one gigawatt of renewable power cheaper than coal. Just subsidise, subsidise, subsidise, and sell on the equipment when you're done. Easy. Okay, maybe it doesn't scale too well...
  • REC is what it's called. Not RCC. Come on, even I'm noticing an unusually high number of editing mistakes in the /. summaries lately. Usually I just don't care- but let's strive for accuracy shall we? If /. isn't anal about this kind of thing... who else would be?
  • by Calinous (985536) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:29AM (#21503599)
    Wind might always blow at very high altitudes - but solar works only during the day. So, you either have storage, you ramp coal power plants up and down from day to night, or black out the customers
    • by hacker (14635)

      Wind might always blow at very high altitudes - but solar works only during the day.

      Incorrect. Commercially-available solar panels are only able to capture one spectrum of the light available, however... there are panels which can capture five levels of the light spectrum, at much greater efficiency than the presently available panels.

      This means you can capture power at night (infrared), from ambient light (streetlamps), reflected light and so on.

      These newer panels are obviously much more expensive t

      • by Calinous (985536)
        "This means you can capture power at night from ambient light (streetlamps)"

              Solar powered flashlight?
        Using a 1 square meter solar panel, you could get at most 0.4W from the light of one 1000W lightbulb at 25 meters away.
  • Is jokes and a little bashing on Google. Well, I say good for Google. Finally a major company is taking serious interest in dealing with the addiction that the human race has for fossil fuel energy. With all the money people in the Google regime have I think it is great. If more companies took a stand we might get off our addiction or at least lessen it a bit.
    • by ErikZ (55491) *
      What? No bashing on Google for investing into technologies that will benefit itself in the long term?

      (waits for the hippies to show up and say "Well, they have *so much money*, it wouldn't hurt to spend it on the homeless")
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:47AM (#21503733) Journal
    Or the wind turbines will be tuned to emit a low frequency sound plugging products, "uuusssee bbbbeeeesssstttt bbbbiiiirrrrdddd sssseeeedddddssss".

    The solar cells will reflect light and write "www.sanmarcos.island.com" on the clouds.

    If a slashhack can think of these, imagine what ubergooglegeek can think of!!!

  • It's thought-inflation: people from Google mentioning millions sort of wears out on me, by now. I mean, if someone /else/ were to say: we're going to invest hundreds of millions in renewable energy, I would think: wow ! That kind of money can buy you a lot of research and development. But when Google says it, I think: yeah yeah, that's just going to cover the cost of coffee machine. Does anyone else experience this ?
  • by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @10:44AM (#21504315) Homepage Journal
    Google invested heavily in a company called NanoSolar [nanosolar.com] back on 2002. Since then, Google, along with some of the top investors, have given Nanosolar millions and millions of dollars to produce printable roll-out solar cells that uses a conductive foil instead of silicon, making the cells much cheaper and easier to make. For information on Nanosolar's history, you can go here. [nanosolar.com]
  • Good luck (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @10:55AM (#21504457) Homepage Journal

    No disrespect to Google, and I'm glad they're making the investment, but they (and a lot of the commenters here) seem to think all it requires is waving their Magic Googlewand(beta) and we'll have energy cheaper than coal(!! Coal is pretty freaking cheap).

    If it were easy, it'd have been done already. For Google to claim that they think it can be done in "years, not decades" sounds like a good bit of hubris. If they don't have something already on the horizon, then we're stepping in the range of arrogant stupidity.

    All the credit to Google for stepping up to the plate and trying to get something done, but the way the whole thing is worded, there's this undercurrent of assumption that nobody has tried to make these things work before. All inventors think about cheap energy! It's like Google slapped their head one day and said, "Good God! Why didn't anyone think of creating alternate energy cheaper than coal before?? We're geniuses!!"

    I hope something comes of it, but I'm not holding my breath.

  • by ForemastJack (58751) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:13AM (#21504657)

    I work for a major public power company and have worked on some renewables projects in departments concerned with supplying retail load (e.g. you, your aunt, Google, etc.) What so much of this debate forgets -- either deliberatley or inadvertently -- is that electricity can't be stored in any useful quantity. It's unique among commodities.

    Thus it follows that the main problem with 99% of renewable energy is that it is not dispatchable. When you're working for the power company and suddenly load spikes, you need to be able to call on a resource immediately. We have dozens of internal procedures (and a load of regulation) that dictate how much "ready to go" energy we must have available at any point.

    As a utility I can't count of a solar plant to be there as a reserve -- even in the Southwestern U.S. -- nor wind. (Geothermal is a notable exception -- it's as reliable as coal or nuke -- but is only available in specific locations.) Sure, if I could store the energy produced by a wind farm until I needed it, great, but that's not a possibility.

    I doubt that Google (or any business) will be willing to accept the operating risk of not having some form of dispatchable energy ready at hand. So they've got two choices:

    • Accept that there are just going to be times when they need to deal with the "devil" and receive power from a coal or (more likely) natural gas generating unit; and/or
    • Sell power into the grid from renewables during periods when they have it available and then use that to offset the power they must pull in from the grid when the renewables are off-line. I believe this is what New Belgium Brewing does with their "We're powered exclusively by wind!" line. No, they're not powered exclusively by wind, unless they send everyone home from work during calm weather.

    Utilities, for the most part, regard renewable energy projects as really expensive press release opportunities. Utilities are required to be reliable and, for the most part, are run by men and women who take pride in the fact that when you, Joe Customer, turn on your kid's night light, it comes on. Until someone figures out how to store energy from a wind or solar farm, the energy driving that night light is going to be baseloaded on either fossil or nuclear fuel.

Is a person who blows up banks an econoclast?

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