Thursday, October 2, 2008

Clean Energy 2030

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Right now the U.S. has a very real opportunity to transform our economy from one running on fossil fuels to one largely based on clean energy. We are developing the technologies and know-how to accomplish this. We can build whole new industries and create millions of new jobs. We can reduce energy costs, both at the gas pump and at home. We can improve our national security. And we can put a big dent in climate change. With strong leadership we could be moving forward on an aggressive but realistic timeline and an approach that balances costs with real economic gains.

The energy team at Google has been crunching the numbers to see how we could greatly reduce fossil fuel use by 2030. Our analysis, led by Jeffery Greenblatt, suggests a potential path to weaning the U.S. off of coal and oil for electricity generation by 2030 (with some remaining use of natural gas as well as nuclear), and cutting oil use for cars by 40%. Al Gore has issued a challenge that is even more ambitious, getting us to carbon-free electricity even sooner. We hope the American public pushes our leaders to embrace it. T. Boone Pickens has weighed in with an interesting plan of his own to massively deploy wind energy, among other things. Other plans have also been developed in recent years that merit attention.

Our goal in presenting this first iteration of the Clean Energy 2030 proposal is to stimulate debate and we invite you to take a look and comment - or offer an alternative approach if you disagree. With a new Administration and Congress - and multiple energy-related imperatives - this is an opportune, perhaps unprecedented, moment to move from plan to action.

Over 22 years this plan could generate billions of dollars in savings and help create millions of green jobs. Many of these high quality, good-paying jobs will be in today's coal and oil producing states.

To get there we need immediate action on three fronts:

(1) Reduce demand by doing more with less

We should start with the low-hanging fruit by reducing energy demand through energy efficiency -- adopting technologies and practices that allow us to do more with less. At Google, we've seen the benefits of this approach. We identified $5M in building efficiency investments with a 2.5 year payback. We've also designed our own data centers to run more efficiently, and we believe they are the most efficient in the world. On a smaller scale, personal computers can also become much more efficient. A typical desktop PC wastes nearly half the power it consumes. Last year, Bill Weihl, our Green Energy Czar, worked with industry partners to create the Climate Savers Computing Initiative to raise energy efficiency standards for personal computers and servers. If we meet our goals, these standards will cut energy consumption by the equivalent of 10-20 coal-fired power plants by 2010.

Government can have a big impact on achieving greater efficiency. California's aggressive building codes, efficiency standards and utility programs have helped the state keep per-capita energy use flat for years, while consumption in much of the rest of the country has grown significantly. Enacting similar policies at the national level would help even more.

We also need to give the American people opportunities to be more efficient. The way we buy electricity today is like going to a store without seeing prices: we pick what we want, and receive an unintelligible bill at the end of the month. When homes are equipped with smart meters and real-time pricing, research shows that energy use typically drops. Google is looking at ways that we can use our information technology and our reach to help increase awareness and bring better, real-time information to consumers.

(2) Develop renewable energy that is cheaper than coal (RE<C)

Google’s data centers draw from a U.S. electricity grid that relies on coal for 50% of its power. We want to help catalyze the development of renewable energy that is price competitive with coal. At least three technologies show tremendous promise: wind, solar thermal, and advanced geothermal. Each of these is abundant and, when combined, could supply energy in virtually every region of the U.S.

This year Google has invested over $45 million in startup companies with breakthrough wind, solar and geothermal technologies through our Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C) initiative, but that is a drop when we need a flood. We need to unleash massive private investment in clean energy. The government can have a big impact here as well. We must dramatically increase federal R&D and enact measures supporting the rapid deployment and scaling of clean technologies such as long-term tax support and a national renewable energy standard. Tax credits for wind and solar have lapsed several times in the last 20 years, starving these nascent industries of the capital they need to truly enter the mainstream.

We also must work both sides of the RE<C equation. Progress will be accelerated when the price of carbon reflects its true costs to society. Putting a price on carbon through cap-and-trade or a carbon tax would help address this.

(3) Electrify transportation and re-invent our electric grid

Imagine driving a car that uses no gas and is less expensive to recharge than buying a latte. A "smart grid" allows you to charge when electricity is cheap, and maybe even make some money by selling unused power back to the grid when it's needed. Plug-in cars are on their way, with GM, Toyota and other manufacturers planning introductions in the next two years. At Google we have a small fleet of Toyota Prius and Ford Escape plug-in conversions, as a part of our RechargeIT program. The converted Prius plug-ins get over 90 MPG, and the Escapes close to 50 MPG. However to successfully put millions of plug-in cars on the road and and fuel them with green electricity, we need a smart grid that manages when we charge and how we're billed. A smart grid could also provide for the two-way flow of electricity, as well as large-scale integration of intermittent solar and wind energy. Much of the technology in our current electrical grid was developed in the 60s and is wasteful and not very smart. We are partnering with GE to help accelerate the development of the smart grid and support building new transmission lines to harness our nation's vast renewable energy resources.

We see a huge opportunity for the nation to confront our energy challenges. In the process we will stimulate investment, create jobs, empower consumers and, by the way, help address climate change.

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