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I’m Pretty Sure Google Isn’t Enron November 27, 2007

Posted by David Card in Media.
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I’m at least as cynical as the next guy, but I have to say Google’s renewable energy initiative feels both noble and sensibly self-serving. Tidbits from the press conference that may not be in the announcement:

– Near-term objective: produce 1 gigawatt of energy (enough to power San Francisco) for cheaper than coal
– Coal-powered electricity ranges from 4 cents/kilowatt hour for a new US plant to 2 to 2.5 cents for a depreciated plant. So they’re aiming for 1 to 3 cents from solar-thermal.
– Google won’t say what its own energy consumption is, but the way it’ll first deploy the technology will likely be for its own data center consumption. Also, the energy creation and consumption will likely be co-located. Basically, Google’s own consumption can fund the work they think is needed to kick-start current solar-thermal efforts into overdrive. (If that’s a metaphor.)
– Google will spend tens of $Ms initially. Hiring 20 to 30 people in the next year or two. Google has “hundreds” of people in its data centers that could contribute.
– Google sees reasonable payoff “in the hundreds of $Ms in the near term.” Beyond that, whether it’s technology licensing, renting out its people to build plants, or getting a piece of other companies’ power spending is an open question. It doesn’t sound like Google wants to build plants or broker energy itself, though.
– Other opinions on energy tech: hydro is cheaper than coal but there’s nowhere to build any more significant capacity; nuclear might be okay but there doesn’t seem to be a way to finance it privately.

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