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Internet Behemoth Google Throws Down Green Energy Gauntlet

More corporate green-washing, or is Google ahead of the curve?
 
 
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Last week, as negotiations on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change took place in Bali, internet giant Google announced that its charitable foundation would invest in an ambitious program to create renewable green energy that's cheaper than coal.

Bob Keefe of the Palm Beach Post ran it down:

Google is going ga-ga over green energy.

The world's best-known Internet company Tuesday announced a far-reaching initiative to stimulate the development of solar and other renewable energy sources.

As part of the program, Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG, $673.57) and its nonprofit foundation, Google.org, has earmarked tens of millions of dollars to either spend on research and development or to invest in renewable energy in 2008. In the longer term, it also plans to build solar power plants, invest in more renewable energy companies, and sell or license any energy-related technologies it develops to other companies.

In part, Google wants to find cheaper, more reliable power to run the giant, energy-sucking computer data centers it operates or plans to open in more than 25 locations around the world.

But Google co-founder Larry Page said the company's ambitions extend far beyond its own business.

"Just providing energy for Google is not really enough of a goal," Page said in a conference call with reporters. "We really want to provide energy that's cheap enough that it can replace significant amounts of the energy that (is) used today."

Specifically, Google wants to develop technology to make solar and other energy sources less expensive than coal, which produces more than 40 percent of the country's electricity but in the process releases large amounts of climate-warming gases into the atmosphere.

[…]

Page said the company expects to see returns "on a reasonable time scale" from its energy investments, either in the form of higher stock prices of the companies it invests in, in savings from producing its own power, or from the sale or licensing of solar and other technologies it develops.

Google, of course, isn't the only company that sees greenbacks in going green.

Atlanta media mogul Ted Turner, who has made big investments in solar energy lately, recently called the solar business "the greatest business opportunity in the history of humanity."

[…]

Like other companies, "Google's motivation is profit," said Pratap Chatterjee, an author and the program manager at Corpwatch.org, a business watchdog group.

"I'm not saying what Google is doing is bad … but they're not going to do something that's unprofitable."

Grist's blog welcomed the news, saying, "The Google motto, 'Don't be evil,' never seemed so apt."

At Earth2tech, Craig Rubens offered some insight into Google's rationale. The company's long-term viability, he writes, quoting a colleague, requires "Google to build their own servers, storage systems, Internet switches and perhaps, sometime in the future, even optical transport systems."

However, all of this techno-customization is for naught without power in the form of cheap electricity. So, extending that thought process further, it makes perfect sense for Google to build its own cheap, clean power generation. Power costs for data centers can make up 48 percent of a business's IT budget, a recent Gartner report estimates.

Gartner has released a series of reports on the mounting operational costs of data centers, which are increasingly squeezed by power and space constraints, and the numbers are serious. "By 2011, more than 70 percent of U.S. enterprise data centers will face tangible disruptions related to energy consumption, floor space, and/or costs."

Blogger Feww at Fire Earth was more skeptical about the plan:

Ironically, the world energy demand in the last 12 months has increased by at least 10.1EJ (EJ = billion gigajoules) and most probably by as much as 24EJ (~ 760gigawatt) compared with previous period, a demand that is 321 to 760 folds higher than google's targeted 1 gigawatt capacity. Google is producing additional energy; it is not keeping the coal in the ground!

This begs the question: Is google trying the save the world by producing more energy pollution?

Google is a glorified advertising agency, and its interest in renewable energy is motivated by commercial reasons and profit alone. Perhaps the best testimony to google's true intentions is the extravagant lifestyle of its founders who fly around in a private Boeing 767-200 jet that usually carries up to 180 passengers.

Related:

"Labor Goes to Bali: Unions Ready to Take on Global Warming"
By Brendan Smith, Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello
The devastating realities of climate change, and the scientific consensus around its cause and cure, are shifting the global political climate.

"We Would be Fools to Banish Global Business from the Great Climate Battle"
By Jonathan Freedland
Capitalism alone won't save the planet, but it has a critical, innovative role to play. The alternative is to rely on a revolution.

 
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