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.
Google officials decline to say just how much power its data centers use to run its vast Internet search site and its other businesses.
But by some estimates, the company spends more than $2 million per month on electricity to power its network of an estimated 450,000 computer servers.
Google has more than cost-cutting and altruism in mind.
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."
Power companies, led by Juno Beach-based FPL Group Inc. (NYSE: FPL, $67.94), are investing heavily in solar, too. FPL in September announced plans to sink $2.4 billion into building solar thermal energy plants in Florida and California.
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."
- 183 Environment