Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gadgets, Google and Clean Energy Investing

At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, companies introduced a broad mix of devices including faster, cheaper and cooler looking televisions, media recorders, computing/ mobile devices and auto technology as well as gadgets such as the HAPIfork, a digital fork that lights up and vibrates to tell its user to slow down. As some observers of this event speculated on the energy needed to power these devices, Google, on Wednesday, announced a $200 million equity investment in Spinning Spur Wind Ranch, a 70 turbine (161 megawatt) project near Vega, Texas.

Other Google clean tech investments include: 

  • $75 million in a wind power project in Rippey, Iowa
  • $94 million in solar photovoltaic projects near Sacramento, California
  • $75 million in Clean Power Finance,  a fund providing financing for rooftop solar systems; 
  • $280 million to  finance residential solar projects with the assistance of SolarCity, a solar systems provider; 
  • $178 million in Brightsource which develops solar thermal towers to collect heat and create steam which powers turbine generators in California’s Mojave Desert;  
  • a 37.5% equity stake in Atlantic Wind Connection which plans to install wind turbines 10-15 miles off-shore along the Atlantic Coast (between New Jersey and Virginia); 
  • $175 million in two wind projects in Southern California at the Alta Wind Energy Center,
  •  $100 million in the Shepherd’s Flat wind farm project in Arlington, Oregon
  • $38.8 million in the Peace Garden Wind Farms in North Dakota and 
  •  €3.5 million  for a 49%  equity stake in a solar facility in Brandenburg, Germany.
MY TAKE
  • While large-scale power projects can present technological, bureaucratic and budgetary challenges, it is constructive that Google and other firms are increasingly engaged in financing these efforts.  It is also notable that, while Google and others use renewable energy sources to support the massive power needs of their data centers, the “cloud computing” industry in general operates in an inefficient fashion  (Power, Pollution and the Internet” The New York Times, September 23, 2012). 
  • Bottom line: 1) efforts by Google and others to expand and enhance the power grid are welcome news and 2) organizations with innovative products and services may benefit from improving the inefficiencies within our digital ecosystem.

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