Google’s Clean Energy Projects (7 Big Ones)

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Google is one of the largest clean energy corporate leaders in the U.S. If we had more Googles (and fewer Facebooks or Apples), it looks like we’d have a much brighter future. Hopefully, others will follow Google’s lead sooner than later on this front, or even try to one-up it. For now, though, it’s clean energy enthusiasm and investments are hard to compete with.

With a number of recent clean energy project announcements, I thought it might be nice to run down a list of Google’s major projects of the last year or so.

1. Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (“largest solar energy project in the world”): $168 million invested.

Ivanpah is a utility-scale solar thermal power plant in the Mojave Desert in California that “will have a net power capacity of 370 MW (which means that it is expected to generate enough electricity for ~85,000 homes according to the DOE or ~140,000 homes based on BrightSource Energy’s utility power purchase agreement), and will double the amount of solar thermal-generated electricity worldwide.”

(Announcement April 11, 2011)

2. Caithness Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (“largest wind farm in world”): $100 million invested.

“The 845-megawatt behemoth, called the Caithness Shepherds Flat project, will be sited in eastern Oregon and bring hundreds of new construction jobs to the area,” Tina wrote in December. 845 MW is enough for over 235,000 homes. The project is supposed to be up in 2012.

From Rick Needham of Google:

This project is exciting to us not only because of its size and scale, but also because it uses advanced technology. This will be the first commercial wind farm in the U.S. to deploy, at scale, turbines that use permanent magnet generators—tech-speak for evolutionary turbine technology that will improve efficiency, reliability and grid connection capabilities. Though the technology has been installed outside the U.S., it’s an important, incremental step in lowering the cost of wind energy over the long term in the U.S.

(Announcement April 18, 2011)

3. Offshore Wind Superhighway: Investment total undisclosed, but surely tens of millions of dollars (37.5% of the equity of the initial development stage).

This project, as Susan wrote in October, consists of:

350 miles of transmission off the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to Virginia to tap into gigantic off-shore wind potential…. The new transmission cables, a superhighway for clean energy, will enable the connection of up to 6,000 MW of offshore wind turbines. That’s equivalent to 60% of the wind energy that was installed in the entire country last year and enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households.

(Announcement October 11, 2010)

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4. NextEra Energy Resources Wind Project: $38.8 million invested.

In May 2010, Rick Needham of Google wrote:

On Friday we made our first direct investment in a utility-scale renewable energy project — two wind farms that generate 169.5 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 55,000 homes. These wind farms, developed by NextEra Energy Resources, harness power from one of the world’s richest wind resources in the North Dakota plains and use existing transmission capacity to deliver clean energy to the region, reducing the use of fossil fuels. Through this $38.8 million investment, we’re aiming to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy — in a way that makes good business sense, too.

(Announcement May 3, 2010)

5. 20-Year Power Purchase Agreement with NextEra Energy Resources.

Google signed a 20-year contract to buy power from a 114-MW Iowa wind farm in July, 2010. At that time, Urs Hoelzle of Google wrote:

We just completed a substantial 20-year green Power Purchase Agreement that allows us to take responsibility for our footprint and foster true growth in the renewable energy sector. On July 30 we will begin purchasing the clean energy from 114 megawatts of wind generation at the NextEra Energy Resources Story County II facility in Iowa at a predetermined rate for 20 years. Incorporating such a large amount of wind power into our portfolio is tricky (read more about how the deal is structured), but this power is enough to supply several data centers.

By contracting to purchase so much energy for so long, we’re giving the developer of the wind farm financial certainty to build additional clean energy projects. The inability of renewable energy developers to obtain financing has been a significant inhibitor to the expansion of renewable energy. We’ve been excited about this deal because taking 114 megawatts of wind power off the market for so long means producers have the incentive and means to build more renewable energy capacity for other customers.

(Announcement July 20, 2010)

Update: It was recently announced that Google would be buying another 100 MW or so from NextEra Energy (from a different wind farm): “Google Energy will purchase 100.8 megawatts of clean, renewable energy from NextEra Energy Resources’ Minco II Wind Energy Center under development in Grady and Caddo counties in Oklahoma.”

6. Advanced Geothermal Energy Systems: Over $10 million invested.

In total, Google has put over $10 million into a promising, clean energy source not many are familiar with — geothermal. Last October, I noted that one of its investments, a $481,500 grant it gave the Southern Methodist University to look into geothermal energy potential in West Virginia, paid off pretty well. 78% more geothermal energy was found under the state than was previously expected.

West Virginia currently has an electricity generating capacity of 16,350 MW (~97% of that coming from coal power), but the report concluded that if only 2% of the state’s geothermal energy were recovered, it could produce up to 18,890 MW of capacity from clean energy.

Now, hopefully we can tap into that and stop chopping the tops off mountains, polluting communities and ecosystems while also contributing to global climate change.

7. German Solar Power Plant: Invested $5 million.

In its first international clean energy investment, Google recently said it was putting €3.5 million into a 18.7-MW German solar power plant not far from Berlin. The plant is expected to power up approximately 5,000 German homes. It will be one of the biggest power plants in Germany.

“Germany has a strong framework for renewable energy and is home to many leading-edge technology companies in the sector. More than 70% of the solar modules installed in Brandenburg are provided by German manufacturers,” Benjamin Kott of Google wrote.

(Announcement April 7, 2011)

Turns out, some folks at Greenpeace had the same idea as me in highlighting Google’s big, recent projects — I ended up referencing the following article from them a bit in writing the post above: Google is on a Roll with Renewable Energy.

Any more big clean energy projects from Google that I missed?

Connect with me on Twitter @zshahan3 or Facebook or StumbleUpon.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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