The Arms of Google
Google has several "arms" where cleantech activities reside.
- Google Ventures--the venture capital arm
- Google Initiatives--the firm's corporate clean energy and sustainability efforts
- Google.org--technology-driven philanthropy, grants and investments
What Google Has Been Up To
|Project or Investment||Date||Arm||Comments|
|Makani Power ||2006-10-11 ||Google.org ||$10 million series A funding for company developing Airborne Wind Turbines |
|on-site solar ||2006-10-16 ||Google Initiatives ||1.6 megawatt solar power system on Mountain View campus buildings from EI Solutions (now Suntech Power) |
|RechargeIT.org ||2007-06-18 ||Google.org ||"effort within Google.org that aims to reduce CO2 emissions, cut oil use, and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles"; includes a demonstration fleet of plug-ins at corporate headquarters in Mountain View. |
|plug-in hybrids ||2007-06-18 ||Google.org ||worked with Hymotion/A123Systems to create fleet of plug-in hybrids for research |
|Innovate or Die Pedal-Powered Machine Challenge||2007-09-24 ||Google.org ||collaborated with Specialized and Goodby Silverstein & Partners on YouTube video contest on harnessing pedal power in innovative ways, with prizes of $5,000 in cash and Specialized Globe bikes |
|RE<C ||2007-11-27 ||Google.org ||"joint Google.org+Google.com climate team created RE<C"; "RE<C will work to develop one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity – enough to power a city the size of San Francisco – at a price cheaper than coal in years, not decades. As part of this effort, Google.org is making strategic investments and grants, advancing key public policies, and using Google products to unlock critical information." Includes EGS project and investments. [Update 2011 11 23: program terminated. See last item this official Google blog post.]|
|Clean Energy 2030 ||2008-01-10 ||Google's Proposal for reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. Text here. |
|eSolar ||2008-01-17 ||Google.org ||$10 million invested in utility-scale concentrating solar power; also participated in later round |
|BrightSource Energy ||2008-05-14 ||Google.org ||$10 million equity investment as part of RE<C initiative |
|ActaCell ||2008-07-23 ||Google.org ||lithium ion battery start-up; investment through RechargeIT program; $2.75 million between ActaCell and Aptera. |
|Aptera Motors ||2008-07-23 ||Google.org ||electric vehicle start-up; investment through RechargeIT program; $2.75 million between ActaCell and Aptera.|
|Enhanced Geothermal Systems ||2008-08-19 ||Google.org ||an effort to advance EGS through R&D, investment, policy and information. Investments in Potter Drilling, AltaRock Energy, Inc., Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab and Stanford University |
|Potter Drilling ||2008-08-19 ||Google.org ||$4 million investment to develop breakthrough hard rock drilling technologies for EGS |
|AltaRoc Energy, Inc. ||2008-08-19 ||Google.org ||$6.25 million investment to develop EGS technologies and projects |
|Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab ||2008-08-19 ||Google.org ||$489,521 grant to improve geothermal resource assessment techniques and update the Geothermal Map of North America; recent update here |
|Stanford University ||Google.org ||$135,000 award to research advanced well concepts (part of EGS) |
|Silver Spring Networks ||2009-03-31 ||Google Ventures ||Smart grid technology company |
|V-Vehicle Company ||2009-08-03 ||Google Ventures ||Energy-efficient vehicle company |
|Google PowerMeter ||2009-10-05 ||Google.org ||free home energy monitor software; collaborating with energy monitor hardware partners and utilities |
|Google Earth Engine ||2009-10-12 ||Google.org ||computational platform for global-scale analysis of satellite imagery to monitor changes in key environmental indicators like forest coverage |
|mirror technology ||2010-02-26 ||developed prototype new mirror technology for concentrating solar power applications |
|NextEra Energy Resources investment ||2010-05-03 ||Google Initiatives ||$38.8 million direct investment in a two NextEra Energy Resources wind farms that generate 169.5 megawatts of power in North Dakota |
|NextEra Energy Resources PPA ||2010-07-20 ||Google Initiatives ||bulk power purchase of clean energy from 114 megawatts of wind generation at the NextEra Energy Resources Story County II facility in Iowa; 20-year PPA and also buying RECs in bulk |
|Shweeb ||2010-09-24 ||Google Initiatives ||as part of its Project 10^100 Google awarded $1 million to this human-powered transit project |
|self-driving cars ||2010-10-09 ||Google Initiatives ||Google hired leading developers and has built and tested cars that can drive themselves, logging 140,000 miles so far |
|Atlantic Wind Connection ||2010-10-11 ||Google Initiatives (?) ||Google to provide 37.5% of the equity for initial development stage of project to build offshore high-capacity transmission line off Eastern Seaboard |
The company also has a lot of internal energy-efficiency and emission-offset activities, and other green stuff like bike-sharing and goats as lawnmowers.
Where are they going?
At a recent event Bill Weihl, head of Google's renewable energy team, admitted that the RE<C initiative hasn't found as many attractive investment opportunities lately. "It's a little bit bleak," Reuters quotes him as saying. "There aren't that many people working on home runs" to cheap energy, he continued, adding, "We have not seen things that we felt were big enough potential breakthrough and low enough risk."
Greentech Media asked "Has Google’s Green Strategy Begun to Make Sense?" It concludes that the investments have been "a mixed bag" and in some cases "downright wacky", but notes that now it "wants to apply its core competence -- artificial intelligence -- in the realm of efficiency". "Overall, the navigation system fits in much better with Google's strengths than VC investing or solar thermal. Presumably, you can expect more of this sort of thing."
I find it interesting that Google was the sponsor of the "Transportation" category in the California region of the Cleantech Open competition this year. Back in 2007 they sponsored the "Green Building" category.
There is an apparent shift from pure venture investing and spaghetti-to-wall projects toward three areas of emphasis:
- Energy efficiency in computing, which is crucial to Google's bottom line,
- Acquiring supplies of clean energy, which will also reduce the carbon footprint of its data centers, and
- Application of its core decision-making tools and web resources to clean technology, as in its Google Earth projects, PowerMeter and self-driving vehicles.
A company this creative, and with this much money, will keep trying new things.
[Update 2011 11 23: RE<C project closed]