Google's Energy Initiative

This morning at 9 am Pacific, Larry Page is holding a press conference to explain why Google is making investments in alternative energy, with the goal of producing energy at an unsubsidized real cost below that of coal-fired power plants.

The newly created initiative, known as RE<C, will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies. RE<C is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology, and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas. In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related investments in renewable energy. As part of its capital planning process, the company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns.

Renewable less than coal. That’s a “big hairy audacious goal” in the spirit that Jim Collins and Jerry Porras described as characteristic of great companies in their book Built to Last.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Larry has to say at the press conference.

Google’s renewable energy initiative call begins today at 9:00 AM (PT) / 12:00 PM (ET). A replay of the call will be available beginning at 11:30 PM (ET) today through midnight Tuesday, December 4th, 2007 by calling 888-203-1112 in the United States or 719-457-0820 for calls from outside the United States. The required confirmation code for the replay is 2205214.

Liveblogging Update: Larry Page opens the call talking about the name, “admittedly a bit geeky”, and the target of producing energy less than coal. 40% of our electricity comes from coal, and coal burning is a major contributor to global warming. Google believes that there are alternative energy technologies that can produce electricity at scale at a cost less than coal, and can do this in years, not decades. The goal is to produce a full gigawatt of power — “That’s quite a lot — enough to power the city of San Francisco.”

Larry Brilliant then takes the stage, talking about how Google’s philanthropic arm and Google’s business go hand in hand. started with public health, but realized that global warming has the potential to have enormous negative impacts on health. So yes, energy has become an important part of’s mission.

Bill Weihl, Google’s “energy czar”, talks about Google’s existing initiatives, including Google’s solar power installation at the mountain view campus, energy efficiency at Google’s data centers, and its participation in the The Climate Savers Computing Initiative.

Sergey takes the stage. Climate change is not the only issue here. There are lots of parts of the world that can’t get sufficient electricity, clean or dirty. The development of clean, cheap energy will create “vast new oppportunities.”

Bloomberg News asks about actual products. Larry answers that producing a Gigawatt of renewable energy cheaper than coal is a heck of a product. If they can do that, there will be a lot of demand.

Dow Jones asks about the scope of the effort. Will there be investments outside the US? Will Google be developing power plants themselves, or just developing the technology? Sergey answers that they are primarily looking in the US, but they are looking all over the world for technology and teams. They’ve already made some investments, but will be doing their own internal research. “We don’t need to own this. We just need the problem to be solved.” Also, significantly, “Given our investment in data centers, we’ll be in a position to invest significantly in our own plants more than other energy

The AP asks whether this money is coming from, or google itself, and how many people they expect to hire. Larry Brilliant says that the actual investments will come from But the R&D may come from Google itself. Bill Weihl says “we want to hire as many smart and creative people as we can. It will probably be twenty or thirty people over the next couple of years. As the technology matures, and looks like it can go to scale, we’ll obviously be hiring a lot more.”

Mike from the AP asks about whether this will be a new division. Larry says that’s a good way to think about it. But he points out that there are hundreds of people with deep energy expertise in Google’s existing data centers.

Sergey adds that Google is being very forthcoming about this issue because they are trying to raise awareness, but also because they want to get the word out that they are looking to hire in the energy area.

Kevin Dulaney of the Wall Street Journal asks how much power Google itself uses. Bill Weihl replies that that is critical information that Google can’t disclose. Kevin also asks whether this puts Google in the energy business, or would they get it deployed as widely as possible. Sergey replies that they would get it out as widely as possible. Bill also asks whether Google is straying from its core. Sergey points out that energy is critical to Google’s operations, and this is hardly straying.

I missed the call from this point on, because I had to drop off for another scheduled meeting. Take a listen, though, at the replay number shown above. Google is doing a good thing here.