Google, via its recently launched Google Ventures arm, has been an active clean tech investor. Over the past couple of years, the company has acquired stakes in utility-scale solar developers BrightSource Energy andeSolar, smart meter company SilverSpring Networks, and geothermal startup AltaRock Energy.
Google’s move into the clean energy sector has led some to predict that the Mountain View, Calif. company wants to take over the clean energy sector much like it did in the web search market. While this might be true, the reality is that the company is not finding investment opportunities that could help it reach that goal.
When Google launched its clean energy initiative — dubbed Google’s RE <C (renewable energy less than coal) — back in 2007 it had set out to invest hundreds of millions of dollars. So far, only $50 million have been invested.
Instead of staying on the acquisition trail, Google is going organic and planning to develop its own technology, specifically by improving the mirror technology of solar thermal power farms.
At the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco, Bill Weihl, who oversees Google’s green energy investments, said company engineers may have found a way to cut the manufacturing costs of thermal power plants by making the mirrors and the mounts from a secret material, Weihl told attendees, that was “unusual”.
“Typically, what we’re seeing is $2.50 to $4 a watt (for) capital cost. So a 250-megawatt installation would be $600 million to a $1 billion.” That’s expensive, according to Weihl. “We could be demonstrating a significant-scale pilot system that would generate a lot of power and would be clearly mass manufacturable at a cost that would give us a stabilized cost of electricity that would be in the five cents or sub-five cents a kilowatt hour range.”