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Google Investing Hundreds Of Millions In Renewable Energy Projects

In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related investments in renewable energy and to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy projects.

The goal of the new initiative, dubbed RE<C, for Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal, ‘is to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal. Google will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies. The possibility of a move into renewables was raised earlier this month.

“Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal,” said Larry Page, Google Co-founder and President of Products. “We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades. If we meet this goal and large-scale renewable deployments are cheaper than coal, the world will have the option to meet a substantial portion of electricity needs from renewable sources and significantly reduce carbon emissions. We expect this would be a good business for us as well.”

RE<C is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work. “To lead this effort, we’re looking for a world-class team,” Page wrote in a blog post. “We need creative and motivated entrepreneurs and technologists with expertise in a broad range of areas, including materials science, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, land acquisition and management, power transmission and substations, construction, and regulatory issues.”

Working with RE<C, Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, will make strategic investments and grants that demonstrate a path toward producing energy at an unsubsidized cost below that of coal-fired power plants. Google will work with a variety of organizations in the renewable energy field, including companies, R&D laboratories, and universities.

“We have gained expertise in designing and building large-scale, energy-intensive facilities by building efficient data centers,” said Page. “We want to apply the same creativity and innovation to the challenge of generating renewable electricity at globally significant scale, and produce it cheaper than from coal.”

For example, Google.org is working with two companies that Google says have promising scalable energy technologies:

eSolar Inc., a Pasadena, CA-based company specializing in solar thermal power which replaces the fuel in a traditional power plant with heat produced from solar energy. eSolar’s technology has the potential to produce utility-scale power cheaper than coal, according to Google.

Makani Power Inc., an Alameda, CA-based company developing high-altitude wind energy extraction technologies aimed at harnessing wind resources. High-altitude wind energy has the potential to satisfy a significant portion of current global electricity needs.

Last spring the company announced its intention to be carbon neutral for 2007, and it says it is on track to meet that goal.

The company generates electricity for its Mountain View campus from a 1.6 Megawatt corporate solar panel installation and is developing plug-in vehicles through its RechargeIT initiative, including a $10 million request for investment proposals.

In 2007 it helped form the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a consortium that advocates the design and use of more energy-efficient computers and servers.

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