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Where's Google Putting Its Money?

From Solar to Geothermal, High-Altitude Wind to Hybrids

By Renee Cho

Feb 5, 2010

Google has also invested $6.25 million in , which is building EGS projects. AltaRock’s project near San Francisco shut down in September because of fears that earthquake risk from the drilling had not been sufficiently examined. The Energy Department determined that any earthquakes triggered by the drilling would not have had a “significant impact on the human environment,” but is establishing stricter safeguards for EGS. AltaRock has also received $25 million from stimulus funds for an EGS project in Oregon.


Because a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from the transportation sector, Google believes that battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles offer the best opportunity we currently have to cut transportation emissions.

RechargeIT, Google’s project to reduce carbon emissions, cut oil use and stabilize the grid, spurs the implementation of plug-in vehicles, which can get 70-100 miles per gallon and use mainly electricity for their first 20-40 miles. Since 70 percent of Americans drive less than 33 miles each day, plug-in hybrids could enable many commuters to use no gasoline at all. The grid has enough capacity today to fuel three fourths of all U.S. cars, based on driving 33 miles per day.

Plug-in Hybrid Demos

The compared seven models of cars for mileage, carbon emissions, and energy costs. Results included: The Ford Expedition got 14.2 miles per gallon, emitted 1.666 pounds of CO2 per mile, for a total energy cost of $31.90 per 100 miles; the regular Toyota Prius got 48.4 mpg, emitted .487 pounds of CO2 per mile, and cost $9.34 per 100 miles; and the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid got 93.5 mpg, emitted .321 pounds of C02 per mile, and cost $6.90 per 100 miles. To further evaluate plug-in technology, RechargeIT launched the , a free car-sharing program for Google employees utilizing regular and plug-in hybrid Priuses that makes the performance data available online.

Plug-in Investments

Google invested $2.75 million in California’s , which is developing a plug-in called the 2e, a lighter, more aerodynamic vehicle made with recycled and sustainable materials. Texas-based received $2.75 million from Google for its work on the next generation of high power lithium batteries that will last longer and cost less.

In addition, Dr. Willett Kempton from the University of Delaware received a grant of $150,000 for his on vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. The V2G vision is that plug-in vehicles would be charged at night when electricity is cheaper and store the excess electricity in their batteries, which could then be sold back to the grid to supply extra power when it’s needed. An electric vehicle can discharge over 19 kilowatts (the average home uses 1.5 kilowatts), and since most cars are driven only one hour a day, many have electricity to spare.

The idea was successfully tested in 2007, when a plug-in vehicle responded to a signal from PJM, the largest grid operator in the Northeast, and released a surge of power to help balance the grid’s supply and demand. Currently, the U.S. grid does not have the capability to communicate with vehicles, so scalable V2G would require a substantial investment to transform the grid into a smart grid; however, V2G could be implemented today with a "smart garage.”

Both Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are also investors in , which is developing all-electric, zero-emission vehicles and announced last week that it had filed to go .

Using Renewable Power

Google created a 1.6-megawatt solar installation on eight buildings and two carports at its Mountain View headquarters to help achieve its goal of being carbon neutral. The solar panels provide almost one third of the peak power needed for the buildings they are on, equivalent to powering 1,000 homes. The solar installation, which also charges the GFleet, has produced 6,177,226 kilowatts since June 2007.

Google Ventures

Last March, Google launched Google Ventures, a $100 million fund, to invest in outstanding and innovative startups. The fund’s first cleantech investment was California based , which provides smart grid hardware, software and services. Silver Spring is working with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), providing the network infrastructure for SMUD’s project of replacing standard meters with smart meters for 600,000 residents.

Recently, Dan Reicher, Google’s Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, announced that Google would soon also begin financing solar farms, wind farms and other renewable power plants, because startups with new technology often don’t have sufficient money to get off the ground.

Google Energy


Good for Google. It is awesome to see a company at least make the attempt to become more ecologically responsible. However, as far as China goes, you should really see what they do there, nothing about that country states that they are trying to be ecologically responsible.

Questioning your figures


Your first paragraph claims that "global investment in the [energy] sector fell to $5.6bn". This is obviously incorrect by several orders of magnitude, and the reference you provided seems to be referring to CLEAN energy specifically---an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Furthermore, even the $5.6bn figure for clean energy seems suspect; put the figure closer to $150bn.


You're correct. That number refers specifically to cleantech venture investment in the major world markets, and that wasn't clear in the original paragraph. That's been fixed, with more details added in from the UNEP report that you pointed out.
Thank you for letting us know.
-The Managing Editor

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