Google’s ambitious energy and climate plan


Google has come out with a plan to “greatly reduce fossil fuel use by 2030.” It is one of the most ambitious such plans ever offered by a major US company and deserves a close look by everyone (details here, long CEO speech here). Compared to business-as-usual growth, the plan would reduce:

  • Fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88%
  • Vehicle oil consumption by 38%
  • Dependence on imported oil (currently 10 million barrels per day) by 33%
  • Electricity-sector CO2 emissions by 95%
  • Personal vehicle sector CO2 emissions by 38%
  • US CO2 emissions overall by 48% (40% from today’s CO2 emission level)

The cost is high, $4.4 trillion, but savings are even higher, $5.4 trillion, “returning a net savings of $1.0 trillion over the 22-year life of the plan” — not counting the value of carbon credits, which, Google says, would boost the savings to over $2 trillion. And that’s assuming very optimistically that the price of CO2 in 2030 is only $40/ton, which is the European price today. In fact, we’ll probably need CO2 prices twice as large by 2030.

The two most interesting aspects to me are Google’s (inevitable) recognition that cutting oil demand in the medium term is much harder than cutting fossil power generation and, as a result, their call to speed up the retirement of existing vehicles (discussed below).

The Google plan is built around massive and rapid deployment of clean technology:

  • Deploying aggressive end-use electrical energy efficiency measures to reduce demand 33%.
    • Baseline EIA demand is projected to increase 25% by 2030. In addition, the increase in plug-in vehicles (see below) increases electricity demand another 8%. Thus, our efficiency reductions keep demand flat at the 2008 level.
  • Replacing all coal and oil electricity generation, and about half of that from natural gas, with renewable electricity:
    • 380 gigawatts (GW) wind: 300 GW onshore + 80 GW offshore
    • 250 GW solar: 170 GW photovoltaic (PV) + 80 GW concentrating solar power (CSP)
    • 80 GW geothermal: 15 GW conventional + 65 GW enhanced geothermal systems (EGS)
  • Increasing plug-in vehicles (hybrids & pure electrics) to 90% of new car sales in 2030, reaching 42% of the total US fleet that year
  • Increasing new conventional vehicle fuel efficiency from 31 to 45 mpg in 2030
  • Accelerating the turnover of the vehicle fleet from 19 to 13 years (resulting in 25 million new vehicle sales per year in 2030, a 31% increase over the baseline)

My only quibble here is that the PV and CSP numbers should be reversed. We’re going to need all of the clean baseload or clean load-following power we can get, and that means solar baseload.

Needless to say, the key for such accelerated deployment is strong government-led action:

  • Renewable electricity:
    • A long-term national commitment to renewable electricity (e.g. national renewable portfolio standard, carbon price, long-term tax credits and incentives, etc.)
    • Adequate transmission capacity (to support about 450 GW targeting mostly Great Plains and coasts for wind, and desert southwest for concentrating solar power)
    • Adequate grid resources to manage large-scale intermittent generation
    • Public and private renewable energy R&D and investment to achieve cost parity with fossil generation in next several years
  • Energy efficiency
    • Long-term commitment to energy efficiency by the federal government and states (e.g, national efficiency standard, aggressive appliance standards and building codes, “decoupling” of utility profits from sales, incentives for energy efficiency investments)
    • Deployment of a “smart” electricity grid that empowers consumers and businesses to manage their electricity use more effectively
  • Personal vehicles:
    • Public policies supporting the accelerated deployment of fuel-efficient vehicles, e.g. higher fuel efficiency standards for conventional vehicles, financial incentives to remove older vehicles from the fleet and encourage efficient (especially plug-in) vehicle purchases, special electricity rates for “smart charging”, and greater R&D
    • Investment in infrastructure necessary to support massive deployment of plug-ins including charging stations and development of new power management hardware and software

What are these financial incentives to remove older vehicles from the fleet and boost efficiency?

Finally, the average vehicle in the US operates for almost 20 years, meaning that many older, inefficient vehicles continue to consume large amounts of fuel with increasing maintenance cost. To accelerate both the adoption of plug-in vehicles as well as more efficient conventional vehicles, we propose a program to accelerate the retirement of older vehicles. There are a number of mechanisms that might be considered such as “feebates” and consumer and manufacturer incentives for efficient vehicles. As will be seen below, the higher up-front cost of a more efficient vehicle is quickly made up by much lower fuel costs. The impact of such a program would be an increase in new vehicle sales, rising to 6.2 million additional vehicles (31%) in 2030.

This is not just a good idea to boost reductions in oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, it may ultimately be crucial bribe incentive to Detroit to get them to go along.

For those energy geeks out there:

Electricity generation technologies do not all generate the same amount of electricity over a year. The ratio of average output to maximum output is known as the “capacity factor,” and is around 20% for solar photovoltaics, 30% for concentrating solar, 35-40% for wind, 50% for hydroelectric, and 90% for geothermal, biomass, nuclear and coal. Natural gas, which is mostly used for “ramping” purposes (increasing or decreasing output quickly according to changing demand) can run up to 90% but is typically operated around 20%. Thus, 100 GW of geothermal (with 90% capacity factor) produces the same amount of electricity in a year as 300 GW of solar (with 30% capacity factor).

Just as significant as what is in the plan, is what is not, most especially cogeneration (recycled energy) and low-carbon biofuels for transportation, both of which could be major contributors by 2030. So deeper cuts in oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 may well be possible.

This certainly beats the Pickens plan, and it is much more comprehensive than the Gore plan. Kudos to Google. I hope they use some of their hard earned money to promote the plan nationally and here in the nation’s capital.

12 Responses to Google’s ambitious energy and climate plan

  1. Mark Shapiro says:


  2. rjm says:

    google does everything. next I expect the international google political party

  3. hapa says:

    also — unexpectedly — missing is what to do about the increasing expense of truck and air freight. if our business isn’t to be moving by CNG tractor trailers — and I think not, by infrastructure cost — we’re either going “deep economy” local or moving by steel rails, and electrified. i’ll read through their details soon but your summary gives the impression that they treated freight as “miscellaneous” when there are few things more important to the north american economy — especially with finance a big “???”.

  4. gaiasdaughter says:

    Way to go, Google!! So there is such a thing a corporate conscience. . . I find it interesting to note they are calling for, “Replacing all coal and oil electricity generation, and about half of that from natural gas, with renewable electricity.” So, no ‘clean coal.’ Considering the way coal is currently being mined ( and the problems associated with CCS, a future without any kind of coal-generated electricity is the preferable one.

  5. Robert says:

    Excellent. When does it start? As with every ‘plan’ like this there is one vital missing component – the political will to execute.

    I like rjm’s idea of ‘the international google political party’. That is exactly what is needed.

  6. Robert says:


    What does “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” mean? Does it mean that if I offer views that you disagree with my posts are deleted?

    [JR: As everyone can see, many commenters offers views that I strongly disagree with. The few people who offer those views with strong ad hominem arguments or who repeat long-debunked disinformation get put into moderation, where I read the comment first before publishing. I do not think you will find many blogs on this subject that do not moderate. Many blogs moderate everybody, but that in my mind slows the discussion down too much. It really works better for blogs that have new posts once a day or less.]

  7. John McCormick says:

    Fascinating read at 5 am and it came in twenty years too late (that would be pre China’s economic explosion) and delivered at the height of US and now-international fiscal meltdown and global recession.

    I did scan the DOE renewable report and found it full of resource demand data and economc assumptions but it lacked a view of how 300 GW of wind capacity by 2030 can be met with continually growing world demand for steel, copper, aluminum competing with material demand for US deployment of 100,000 to 170,000 turbines in about two decades. And, the DOE and Google plan relies upon huge individual and family investments in efficiency and lifestyle changes to flatline electricity demand growth at a time when credit has dried up.

    What, in today’s world will make the international credit crunch go away or prevent even worse scenarious like rapid spike in interest rates to attract capital which increases the cost of the Google plan. China’s response to global recession might be calling in some of its loans to the US and then the US wheels begin to fall off (possibly FY 2010-2011-2012).

    I want to see a world the Google plan envisions. I just don’t see it fitting into the next 10 or 20 years of bailing out bad debt and restructing the world banking system.

    Without affordable credit coming soon, families will be hard pressed just to cover survival expenses.

    It all sounds like a lot of hope and not a lot of logic — given the damned mess the world of finance has sunken into.

    John McCormick

  8. charlie says:

    three minor points (I haven’t read the plan, just Joe’s summary)

    1. Baseline electricity. Isn’t taking “all coal” and “half of the gas” plants offline going to have a tremendous impact on electricity productions? Maybe have some more nukes to provide a base? Also, I think the only place in the US that relies on oil for electricity production is Hawaii — and there are good reasons for that.

    2. MPG. Moving to 45 is great — but is that highway, city, or combined? The only way to improve city mileage is to make very very light small cars, or just a EV. Granted with a projected 90% hybrid sales in 2030 city mileage may not be a a concern. But moving a CAFE requirement just means smaller cars, or city cars — and that is a HUGE change. As a city dweller, I can’t afford 2 cars (one city, one for other driving) because of parking and other charges. Not to mention, as a city dweller, I can’t use a plug in hybrid (no electricity where I park)

    3. Why the phaseout of older cars? I have a 15 year old car right now. I get 30 highway, 15 city. I’m planning on keeping it for a few years, then my next car would also get 15 city, 30 highway. Every car since fuel injection was widespread in 1985 gets about that mileage. Large SUVs are being removed from the roads anyway. Not sure that getting rid of older cars has an efficiency benefit — there may be a marginal improvement in air pollution, but even a 1988 car right now is pretty clean.

  9. jcwinnie says:

    But, Professor Crisis, Google isn’t running the country.

    [JR: Yet.]

  10. Ronald says:

    So when is something a plan or roadmap and when is it a dream or wish list?

    I’ve got a plan. How about whereever we use a carbon fuel for heating or power, install and use a non carbon fueled energy or power source until that market is saturated with non carbon energy sources and then stop building them.

    Is that to complicated?

    We know what the non carbon fueled energy sources are. The problem is the politics and economics. How do we get people to want non carbon fuels to run their lives and how to pay for all the bankrupted utilities and other businesses that willl go out of business as well as paying for all the new generation non carbon fueled power and heating systems? That is the hard part.

    It didn’t mention, that I saw, replacement of carbon fueled heating with biomass. That can be one important source. We may never get cellulosic ethanol because breaking down biomass for ethanol is hard to do. But breaking down biomass for heat is easy. Fire. In every large heat needing building and plant in rural and agricutural areas in the United States should be heated with biomass gathered from that area.

    Large biomass burners can do relatively well on pollution. Small biomass burners are not so easy to solve the pollution problem economically. If a few people use polluting biomass burners, it might be tolerated, but if everybody does it, it could be a major problem.

    It may be possible to heat more than one building with a central burner. Like many small towns might have a school with houses nearby or downtown area that can have one large burner and then plumbed to share the heat. We had it mentioned in our large local newspaper. They are doing it in Northern European countries.

    The idea is where fuel oil is used for heat now, put in one of these things and use the fuel oil for diesel fuel. The same with natural gas, use the natural gas for transportation. Much easier than trying to convert solid biomass into a liquid or gas fuel.

    People understand the value of an electrical grid, many small towns could have a heating grid with a central heating plant which is feed biomass from local farmers. Keep the money in the community as well.

    Around 1990, there was a plan from the government much like this one. I remember the costs for the plan was 3.3 trillion over 30 years. Those against it always keep mentioning that it was going to cost 3.3 trillion dollars and was to expensive. They never mentioned that the plan was to be over 30 years and as mentioned in the plan it was going to return 4.4 trillion dollars. About the same costs and returns as this google plan.

  11. john says:

    Good plan, but we can do much better. Goals can be self-fulfilling — you get what you ask for. So let’s ask for — and expect more.

    Particularly in the area of fuel efficiency. Going from 31 to 45 mpg for conventional vehicles is far too modest a goal. We can get 60 or better now — why not set stretch goals. And buy-back programs targeting the worst pigs first could help low income folks (they typically have the oldest most inefficient vehicles) and move the national fleet average down to 13 years or so.

    I also believe that ocean thermal, tidal and ocean currents deserve a second look. With current energy prices and a carbon adder, they can be a source of near-base load renewable capacity, contributing cost-effective GW scale power.

    Now is not the time for conservatism, and cautious prudence in goal setting. We need to challenge ourselves to do more than we think we can, not merely map out what is most likely possible.

  12. Milan says:

    Here’s hoping Google can successfully pitch all of this to whoever ends up in power.

    Maintaining the momentum of emissions reductions will require political will that passes from government to government, both in times of economic growth and distress.