Internet search and advertising giant Google is increasingly looking at the energy sector as a potential business opportunity.
From its beginning the company has invested millions of dollars in making its own power hungry data enters more efficient. Its philanthropic and has made small investments in clean energy technologies.
But in recent weeks, Google’s chief executive has hinted at the company’s broad interest in the energy business. They would collaborate on policies and technologies aimed at improving the electricity grid together with General Electric. The effort could be offering tools for consumers.
Meanwhile, engineers at Google are hoping to unveil soon tools that could help consumers make better decisions about their energy use.
And while the company’s philanthropic unit. Google.org, has invested in clean energy start-ups like one that uses kites to harness wind power, Google is now considering large investments in projects that generate electricity from renewable sources.
Google say they want to make money, and want to have impact for climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org.
The timing could be off. With a recession looming and oil prices dropping, investors might pressure Google to curtail its clean energy ambitious.
Google’s shares have lost more than half their values in the last year, and some analysts complain that the company has a long history of dabbling in new initiatives with mixed results. It still relies on one business – small text ads that appear next to search results and on other sites – or the bulk of its earnings. And Google’s online success does not guarantee success in the energy business.
But none of these has deterred Google from going deeper into the alternative energy business. To support its efforts, it had hired a growing number of engineers who are conducting research in renewable energy, former government energy officials scientists and even a former NASA astronauts, whose hands-on experience with all sorts of electronic gadgets is being put it use to develop energy tools for consumers.
Last year, Google unveiled an ambitious initiative called RE C, denoting its goal to develop renewable energy that is cheaper than coal. Since then, much of the public focus on the initiatives has been in the approximately $45 million in investments that Google.org had made in wind solar and geothermal energy start-ups.
The effort now also includes a small but growing group of engineers at Google who are conducting tier own research and development in those technologies which Google said it might commercialize in the future.
Google.org also announced a project last year to develop plug-in hybrids. To make them widely available, the electrical grid would have to be upgraded so that cars could be plugged in at multiple locations, where they could be recharged and consumers billed.
Google now is interested in developing technologies to support some of those upgrades, as well as other tools at the intersection of energy and information technology like smart electrical meters. The partnership with GE is aimed in part at exploring some of these opportunities.
Google has also increased its lobbying in Washington on energy issues. The company is looking at larger investments in renewable energy projects that would be primarily motivated by their profit potential, not their environmental promise.
Google is known for stealth. The search engine company kept its advertising ambitious under wraps for years, a strategy that helped to become the dominant tech company in Silicon valley. And with $14.5 billion in cash in the company’s coffers, it has plenty of resources to keep making further investments in new energy ventures.
Google’s efforts in the energy area remain relatively modest. The company has long said it assigns 70% of its resources to its core search and advertising business, another 20% to related business, like various internet applications, and 10% to long-terms, strategic projects. Its energy work falls in the last group.
Google’s interest in energy emerged, in large part, from the intersection of its idealism and its business goals. Renewable energy is hard to come by and is expensive.