Google’s newly minted CEO, Larry Page, announced the formation of a new research and development team at the company’s latest annual shareholder meeting. The team, which will be composed of five employees, will be responsible for developing utility-scale renewable energy technologies. The end goal is to create a form of renewable energy that is more cost effective than coal that can be applied on a mass scale. Page acknowledges that people are always curious to know “what is the latest crazy thing that Google did.” But, this new team was not created to develop an off-the-wall, obscure, or purely entertaining form of technology. It is being assembled to hopefully realize Google Inc’s longstanding goal of “RE<C,” meaning creating a way for renewable energy that is cheaper than coal, in a relatively short time span.
The creation of the research and development team marks Google’s latest green move, but definitely not its first. The company set a goal in 2007 to become completely carbon neutral. That involved focusing on the efficiency of its massive operations, and in order to do that Google hired Rick Needham in 2008 as Director of Green Business Operations and Strategy. His initial task was to cut down on Google’s overall energy use. However, as Needham noted, “Efficiency doesn’t get you to zero, and so, our next step is to go and seek and use renewable energy.” Needham’s role eventually evolved. Soon he was no longer just in charge of reducing Google’s carbon footprint.
When Needham joined Google in 2008, the company was making only very small investments in clean energy ventures. Before the end of the year, though, the Great Recession was in full swing and the financial institutions who were investing in renewable energy development had crumbled. Google saw an opportunity to scale up their investments in renewable energy, resulting in benefits to company shareholders and the planet alike. The company soon started researching potential projects that would produce favorable financial returns and projects set to have large impacts. The company’s philosophy on these investments is that larger projects are, by definition, going to have larger impacts. And with the end goal of revolutionizing energy use all over the globe, it makes sense that large-scale projects are of greater interest to the company.
Google made its first major investment in renewable energy over a year ago. Last May the company made a $39 million tax-equity investment in two distinct wind projects in North Dakota. Following the success of this initial project, Google recently made two additional astronomical investments: one in the amount of $168 million in the Ivanpah solar farm (located in the Mojave desert), and a $100 million investment in the Shepherds Flat wind farm (the largest wind farm in the world). Within the last two weeks Google invested another $55 million in a wind farm in Tehachapi, California. To date, Google’s total investments in clean energy top $400 million.
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