Media incorrectly report Google is abandoning renewables. In fact, the company is increasing clean energy investments.
Buried at the bottom of an innocuous “spring cleaning” post on Google’s blog yesterday, the internet giant made a very important announcement: it will stop funding its Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C) initiative.
But that’s not the whole story. And if you believe the headlines — “Google Abandons Renewable Energy Push” or “Are Google’s Green Days Over?” — you might think this is a negative development. But if you look at the details, it’s a story about how the company is adapting to a changing market and actually increasing investments in renewables.
Announced in 2007 by Google, RE<C was focused on driving down the cost of renewable electricity (mostly solar and geothermal) to meet the cost of generating electricity from coal. The initiative funded R&D in capital-intensive, early-stage technologies that would enable cheaper Enhanced Geothermal Systems and Concentrating Solar Power projects.
But Google says it’s now shifting its focus to project financing rather than R&D, citing the need for more sophisticated research on CSP technologies beyond Google’s scope, and the rapidly changing economics of solar PV:
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of progress in clean energy. We’re excited that some technologies are so quickly approaching cost competitiveness with traditional forms of energy in parts of the US and the world. Power tower technology has come a long way, too. But the installed cost of solar photovoltaic technology has declined dramatically over the past few years, making solar photovoltaic technology a compelling choice for consumers.
At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level. So we’ve published our results to help others in the field continue to advance the state of power tower technology, and we’ve closed our efforts. We will continue our work to generate cleaner, more efficient energy—including our on-campus efforts, procuring renewable energy for our data centers, making our data centers even more efficient and investing more than $850 million in renewable energy technologies.
Although the news was hidden at the bottom of a blog post, this is a pretty important announcement. (Only at Google would they casually “spring clean” millions of dollars in R&D investments for renewable energy).