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Thu, Nov 29, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Google to invest in alternative energy

POWER CRUNCH The US firm hoped that investment in renewable energy would meet its power needs and that it could sell the excess to other users or license the technology


Google Inc is expanding into alternative energy in its most ambitious effort yet to ease the environmental strain caused by the company's voracious appetite for power to run its massive computing centers.

As part of a project announced on Tuesday, the Internet search leader and its philanthropic arm will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a quest to lower the cost of producing electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind and the sun.

If Google realizes its goal, the cost of solar power should fall by 25 percent to 50 percent, co-founder Larry Page said in an interview.

The US company initially hopes to harvest cleaner-burning electricity to meet its own needs and sell power to other users or license the technology that emerges from its initiative, dubbed "Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal," or "RE

"If we achieve these goals, we are going to be in the [electricity] business in a very big way," Page said. "We should be able to make a lot of money from this."

Google joins a long list of other prominent companies striving to become more environmentally friendly amid mounting concern that pollution from coal, oil and other so-called "dirty" power generation is causing potentially catastrophic climate change.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, made a major commitment to renewable energy two years ago. And technology leaders like Cisco Systems Inc, Microsoft Corp, IBM Corp and Intel Corp are trying to become more energy efficient.

Google's initiative will likely stand out because of its financial muscle and its renowned brand, said Nicholas Parker, chairman of the Cleantech Network, a group that tracks investments in alternative energy.

"This is like a shot across the bow," Parker said. "It shows there are people willing to put their oars in the water to get the job done."

Google ended September with US$13 billion in cash -- a stockpile that's expected to grow as the company continues to mine growing profits from its search engine, which has become the hub of the Internet's most powerful advertising network.

The notion of an Internet firmy diversifying into the alternative-energy business isn't as incongruous as it might seem.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has often cited the company's ever-expanding power needs as one of his biggest worries, and Page and co-founder Sergey Brin have long been interested in electric cars and other inventions related to alternative energy.

Google's headquarters already draws some of its power from one of the nation's biggest solar power installations.

What's more, Al Gore, who won a Nobel Prize for his efforts to educate people about the perils of global warming, has been a Google adviser for several years. Page said the former vice president influenced Google's decision to accelerate its investment in renewable energy.

Just how much electricity Google requires to power the hundreds of thousands of computers that run its search engine and other online services is a closely guarded secret.

But there's little doubt Google's power demands will escalate as the company introduces more free products and services that will require even greater computing capacity.

Next year, for example, the company reportedly will unveil a service that will allow users to store a wide range of their personal files on Google computers. Page declined to comment on the report in the Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed people familiar with the matter.

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