Google announced today that it will be investing tens of millions of R&D dollars through its philanthropic arm, Google.org, to develop clean energy technologies that are cheaper than coal. Google co-founder Larry Page thinks that solar thermal and wind energy is the way to go. Google is already working with eSolar, an Idealab company, and Makani Power, a high-altitude wind-energy company (although it is not clear whether Google has invested in either). Google, incidentally, has also worked with another Idealab company, Energy Innovations, which installed the solar panels on the roof of its campus buildings and is working on some interesting solar-concentration technologies in its own right that involve Fresnel lenses, but I digress.
Google wants to apply its expertise in running energy-efficient data centers into broader renewable energy businesses. Obviously, this has little to do with search or organizing the world’s information, which is why it is under Google.org. But Google has money to burn, and if anything comes out of this effort, it will be well worth it. Nevertheless, getting renewable energy below the cost of coal at an unsubsidized rate is a tall order for anyone. It is an audacious goal that nobody will blame Google for not meeting, and that will attract heaps praise if they make any progress whatsoever. But, hey, they are smart guys. Solving global warming is just a big engineering problem, right? Larry Page could do that on his 20-percent Tuesdays.