* Google investments in renewables now more than $350 mln
* Cheaper-than-coal goal is "aspirational" - Needham
* Wants other companies to do more
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, April 27 Google Inc (GOOG.O) has
not given up on its goal of making renewable energy cheaper
than coal for consumers but it is not predicting victory soon,
its director of green business operations said.
"We are still moving forward," said Rick Needham, in an
interview at the company's office in Washington. "I think that
is an important goal and a very aspirational goal, but we are
doing what we can."
The Internet search giant said in late 2007 it would invest
hundreds of millions of dollars in solar, wind and geothermal
technologies to help make renewables cost competitive with
coal, reviled by environmentalists for its emissions.
Google's co-founder Larry Page, now the company's chief
executive, said then the company was optimistic the goal could
be met in years, not decades.
The pledge was made before 2008's financial crisis depleted
the number of players willing to make big investments in
In addition it was made as hopes were on the rise that the
U.S. Congress would pass a comprehensive energy bill that would
have put a higher price on burning coal and other fossil fuels,
an effort that died in the Senate last year.
Needham said on Wednesday there were a lot of opportunities
in renewables but it takes time to make an impact. "It takes a
long-term view," he said. "These are not things you spend a
year or two on and say you are there."
"We still have several years to go and these technologies
take a while to develop and then deploy at scale," he added.
In recent years Google investment in renewable energy
technology companies has tapered off while it has ramped up
investment in generating projects, including two this month.
It has made five major investments in renewable energy
generation projects, worth more than a combined $350 million.
On April 18, the company said it would invest about $100
million in the world's largest wind farm under construction in
Oregon, a $2 billion project called Shepards Flat.
A week earlier it said it was investing $168 million in
BrightSource Energy Inc's $1.7 billion-plus Ivanpah solar
thermal complex in the California desert, the company's largest
investment in the clean energy sector to date.
Both projects will produce power that is far more expensive
than that from coal.
But Google believes it can eventually help reduce the costs
of renewables by spurring innovation and by showing other
companies that renewables can be a good business opportunity.
"We would be very encouraged if other companies, even those
involved in this pace were willing to do more," he said.
One reason Google invested in the Shepards Flat wind farm,
for instance, is because the project will deploy 2.5 megawatt
wind turbines, a size of equipment not used before in the
Needham said success at the project could help deploy more
of the turbines at other U.S. wind farms or lead to more
research and development on large turbines, which could
eventually make them cheaper.
Google is exploring more opportunities in renewables,
including enhanced geothermal, where companies would tap into
heat deep underground to produce power, Needham said.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner;editing by Sofina
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