Thursday, January 22, 2015

Google and Renewable Energy:

A Retreat?

One of the more intriguing items that crossed my desk a few weeks ago was an article saying that Google was terminating their R&D efforts on renewable energy.  Basically, their stated reason was that "trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach."

To back up a bit, in 2007, Google undertook a major and well-publicized effort to conduct R&D to develop renewable energy technologies.  Their announcement said that they planned to invest tens of millions of dollars in emerging solar, wind and geothermal technologies in order to make them competitive with the economics of coal.  Later, they transformed their efforts from R&D to deployment of renewables and energy efficiency technologies.

Now, even though the cost of renewables has come down to the point where some claim it is getting competitive with coal, Google appears to have backed off.  They "came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions."

They appear to be backing off to a strategy where they are looking at a broader range of technologies and a greater mix of current and advanced options.  There are only hints to date of what some of these efforts might involve.

For those who are wondering if they might be considering nuclear power, they seem to be silent on that point.  They don't explicitly rule it out, but they appear to be focusing on ways of improving the penetration of the erratic generation from renewable technologies.  For example, one possibility they hint at is technologies that can control the grid efficiently, enabling higher penetrations of distributed generation.

Some might argue that, when companies change course, their publicly stated reasons are not always the whole story, and that may well be the case here.  Nevertheless, I find it interesting that their official explanation acknowledges that cheaper renewable systems to generate electricity are not enough. 


1 comment:

  1. I think that you can take their statement at face value. Objective persons would agree with their final analysis. There is no net CO2 savings from any particular low energy density, intermittent(I choose not to use the term renewable) electricity production scheme.