Google plans renewable energy push

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc. said on Tuesday the Web services and online advertising group plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in coming years to promote a new push to encourage cheap renewable electricity.

A man views solar panels on a roof at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, June 18, 2007. REUTERS/Kimberly White

The project, known as Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal, is hiring engineers and targeted investment financing at advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other new technologies, Google said.

Google is, in effect, taking advantage of its growing mountain of cash, global brand recognition and mushrooming market capitalization as a pulpit to campaign for alternative energy. The company’s leaders argue that the time is ripe for investments in innovative research to cut energy costs.

“Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades,” Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and president of products, said in a statement.

One gigawatt can power a city the size of San Francisco.

Google is seeking to capitalize on the recent excitement among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to apply the risk taking that computer, biotech and Internet businesses are famous for to the field of alternative energy production.

Google’s latest moves come as the price of a barrel of oil nears $100 and coal, which produces 40 percent of the world’s electricity, faces regulatory and environmental pressures that could drive up prices.

Working with its philanthropic arm, the company said it plans to spend tens of millions of dollars in 2008 on research and development and related efforts in renewable energy.

Eventually, the Mountain View, California-based company said it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars in “breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns.”

“Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal” is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work. It said it will begin on solar thermal technology and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas.

Page said Google gained experience in designing large-scale energy projects through its investments in energy-efficient computer data centers. The roofs of Google’s headquarters buildings also boasts one of the biggest solar energy installations of any U.S. company.

“We want to apply the same creativity and innovation to the challenge of generating renewable electricity at globally significant scale and produce it cheaper than from coal,” Page said in the statement.

Reporting by Eric Auchard in San Francisco; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Andre Grenon