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Google Axes ‘Renewables Cheaper than Coal’ Project

Google is abandoning efforts to make renewable energy cheaper than coal, the company blogged yesterday.

The internet giant said is cancelling seven projects, including the aptly named Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C) initiative, in a bout of “spring cleaning.” These projects haven’t had the impact Google was hoping for, senior vice president of operations Urs Hölzle wrote.

Google also said that other institutions are in a better position to take forward RE<C’s research.

The company has published results from the initiative, to help others in the field continue to advance power tower technology. And it says it will continue other clean energy and efficiency efforts, including renewable energy procurement, data center efficiency projects and over $850 million investment in renewable energy technologies.

RE<C was the only one of the seven projects connected to energy or the environment.

Reuters said Google has been doing research to drive down the cost of renewable energy since 2007. Two years ago, Google’s then-green energy czar, Bill Weihl, predicted that the company would only take a few years to develop renewable technology that could produce electricity more cheaply than coal.

Wiehl stepped down from his post on November 8 of this year.

Yesterday’s cancellations constitute the third round of spring cleaning since Google co-founder Larry Page took over in April. In June, Google said it was terminating PowerMeter, a tool for monitoring energy usage. That application “didn’t catch on the way we would have hoped,” the company said.

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8 thoughts on “Google Axes ‘Renewables Cheaper than Coal’ Project

  1. If coal accounted for the costs on the environment and human health (ie negative externalities), renewable energies would certainly be cheaper. Let’s hope that someone else takes the initiative on this development.

  2. If only all of the costs of coal were to be included such as damage to the environment and people. If you added this cost, renewables fall far below coal in costs! Similar to road salt for those northern areas of North America, cheap to spread during the winter, but very very costly to clean up during non-winter months, between the damage to aquafers and land, roads and bridges, cars and property.

  3. I’m reminded of James Howard Kunstler, who wrote the following in 2005:

    “I was invited to give a talk at Google headquarters down in Mountain View last Tuesday. They sent somebody to fetch me (in a hybrid car, zowee!) from my hotel in San Francisco — as if I had any choice about catching a train down, right? Google HQ was a glass office park pod tucked into an inscrutable tangle of off-ramps, berms, manzanita clumps, and curb-cuts. But inside, it was all tricked out like a kindergarten. They had pool tables, and inflatable yoga balls, and $6000 electronic vibrating massage lounge chairs, and snack stations deployed at twenty-five step intervals, with lucite bins filled with chocolate raisins and granola. The employees dressed like children. There were two motifs: “skateboard rat” and “10th grade nerd.” I suppose quite a few of them were millionaires. Many of the work cubicles were literally modular children’s playhouses. I gave my spiel about the global oil problem and the unlikelihood that “alternative energy” would even fractionally replace it, and quite a few of the Googlers became incensed.
    “Yo, Dude, you’re so, like, wrong! We’ve got, like, technology!”
    Yeah, well, they weren’t interested in making a distinction between energy and technology…”

  4. Hmmm, I’d like to see a calculation that concludes that renewables would fall far below the cost of “coal”. First off, one would have to distinguish between the kinds of “coal to electricity” production; it is not some monolithic single process, nor is all coal alike. Second, renewables would have to include their own environmental costs such as mercury poisoning (hydroelectic), and the oil intensive and toxic production of the electronic components used in solar and wind. Etc. etc. Given that the cost of various types of renewable energy can be 8 – 10 times as much as coal (or more), when priced at the point it goes into the grid, I very much doubt that renewables would end up cheaper. However, since no one has done the math, I’m going to remain agnostic about the whole endeavour. But I will pop the balloons of whoever is too “rah! rah!” for either side.

    John Inglis

  5. Having done a little more research, the headline is somewhat misleading. Google is focusing efforts into deployment of renewables instead of trying to make a clean coal. The headline reverses this…Google was getting out of clean coal because it doesn’t make sense for them to pursue. The price of solar has come down so much, it is compelling to focus on deployment instead of R&D of something that would never be clean. Poor headline choice El. See this link for further clarity of this announcement.

  6. Taking a step back, should we expect something with so much positive externalities to really come from google? I guess old school leaders are sticking to the old fashioned cost-benefit analysis, and strike this project out. Shouldn’t we start to lobby for public bodies to play a greater part.

  7. The headline is so misleading.
    Can coal ever be “cheaper” than renewables .What is cheapest to just dig!Every aspects of coal will never be comparable to coal except cost.

  8. I was very impressed by google who cares for the environment. Google currently is the king of blogs and is the largest company of this saaat. An extraordinary progress when google berusahan to reduce carbon emissions. We must support it wholeheartedly by trying to do small acts of planting trees.

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