There's no arguing that Google has assembled some of the brightest people on the planet at their Mountain View headquarters. And as they continually seem to climb one engineering mountain after another, the scope and breadth of their work expands.
It was certain that with the convergence of electrons and information technology known as the 'Smart Grid,' Google would have some role to play in our energy future. But no one realized just how seriously Google was taking the energy sector until their recent launch of RE<C program
through Google.org, a Google spinoff which "... aspires to use the power of information and technology to address the global challenges of our age."
So when they say they've got a formula for a renewable energy future, even one as simple as RE<C (Renewable Energy less than Coal) my ears perk up.
In their introduction to RE<C, Google explains that given the instability of our current fossil fuel-based electical grid, we don't have time for a gradual shift to renewable energy. We need a rapid shift, one which can quickly make renewables like solar and wind cost competitive with coal.
And they are putting their money behind it. As they explain:
RE<C will work to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that is cheaper than electricity produced from coal with a goal of producing one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity — enough to power a city the size of San Francisco — 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.
Google has also developed a well-researched plan for a clean energy future by 2030 (diagram above). It involves a fairly rapid transition to zero coal use along with a slight reduction in natural gas use by 2030.
Despite Google's heavy investment in solar technology, solar energy plays a more modest role than expected (about 250 GW) while wind and geothermal grow more rapidly to 380 GW and 80 GW respectively.
The biggest piece of the clean energy pie goes to energy efficiency technologies which account for roughly 400 GW in saved energy by 2030.
One noticeable omission in the proposal that made me particularly happy, on the heels of my story about the false promise of carbon capture
, was coal with carbon sequestration (known as CCS). Google did not consider CCS due to the enormous technical challenges that would need to be overcome both in capturing and then burying the carbon.
The Clean Energy 2030
report also dives into the conversion of our transportation fleet to renewable fuels.
So if you want to know what the smartest people on the planet are thinking about our renewable energy future, I highly recommend reading through the report. Somehow hearing it from Google, whose track record proves that achieving the impossible is, well entirely possible, adds a level of reality and executability to what for so long has been merely hypothetical.