Google drops solar program

24. November 2011 | Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends | By:  Becky Stuart

As part of an "off-season spring cleaning series" aimed at dropping products that haven’t made the impact expected, Google has announced the end of its 'Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal' (RE<C) program.

US residential solar photovoltaic installation

Google has made a number of investments in solar, mainly in the US. Image: Flickr/orng.

The program’s goal was to lower the costs associated with renewable energy and Google had even assigned a dedicated RE<C engineering team to research solar power improvements. However, as Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of operations and Google fellow admitted on the official Google blog, "At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level."

RE<C, which was launched in 2007, made several investments in companies working on "breakthrough" technologies, such as eSolar and Brightsource Energy. It also assigned an engineering team to look at developing a new type of concentrating solar power, called "solar power tower", and invested $168 million in what has been described as the world’s largest power tower project. Currently under construction, Brightsource’s 392 megawatt (MW) Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

Google did say that it would continue to invest over USD$850 million in renewable energy technologies and has published its solar research results "to help others in the field continue to advance the state of power tower technology".

Recent investments by the internet giant into renewable energy have included: a $280 million fund to finance SolarCity’s lease scheme; the setting up of a $75 million fund for residential solar with Clean Power Finance; and, its first renewable energy investment outside of the U.S., buying a 49 percent stake in an 18.65 MW photovoltaic project in Germany’s Brandenburg.

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