Given that the prospects for cap-and-trade legislation aren’t very good, and that it is hard to see renewable subsidies being ramped up any time soon, I was intrigued by the following post by Duncan Geere at Wired:
At the company’s annual shareholder meeting, [Google founder and CEO Larry] Page announced that a team would be created to capitalize on the company’s investments in green energy companies and its own intellectual property. To fill it, Google is recruiting five new positions in its Renewable Energy Engineering department, residing at its headquarters in California.
One will be responsible for keeping tabs on Google’s own energy usage, but the others are about developing new renewable technology and recommending investments for the company to make. In all the job ads is the phrase “utility-scale,” and in an ad for a mechanical engineer, the following sentence appears: “You will not be designing laboratory experiments; you will be designing useful systems that must deliver cost-effective results in the real world.”
The eventual goal is Google’s long-standing “RE<C” project, making renewable energy cheaper to produce than energy generated by coal plants.
This suggests that Page is making a medium-sized bet that he can actually make RE<C work on the merits, an idea I find very encouraging. There are, of course, other things going on, e.g., this contributes to the Google brand, even if the effort fails. If this is a totally quixotic effort, and is more about the ideals and political proclivities of Page and others members of the Google’s leadership, this represents a form of looting from Google’s shareholders. But I don’t think that this is primarily about ego or idealism. Or rather I hope it’s not.
Google has backed Makani Power, among other ventures, and the company does a good job of explaining the potential of high-altitude wind power, one of many promising RE<C technologies.