In addition to being the leading search engine, Google has become the leading player in the energy business outside of actually energy companies and financial institutions. Google currently has over $1 billion in energy investments and in contracts for renewable power.
Google’s efforts to transform the world’s use of power and fossil fuels have included a$200 million investment in a Texas windfarm and the purchase of a company that makes innovative flying wind turbines. Google has also invested $160 million in a solar project in California and is funding the development of an offshore grid to support wind turbines off the Atlantic coast.
Rick Needham, Google’s director of energy and sustainability, stated that Google has a total ownership stake in more than two gigawatts of power generation capacity. Google even has a subsidiary, Google Energy, that is authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to sell wholesale electricity that is generates from its power assets.
Excluding energy businesses and financial institutions, analysts say that Google is the only company that has taken major ownership stakes in stand-alone power projects.
According to Michael Di Capua, head of North America analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Google’s investments are paying off – even though energy is not Google’s core business focus. “I think they do see economic value in making the investments, even though it does require some hassle,” said Di Capua.
Needham said Google executives spent 14 years being “obsessive fanatics” about reducing the energy needed to run the internet’s most popular services, while also developing more efficient ways to support the online material.
For example, Google now uses the same amount of energy as an electric hand dryer to power 100 searches its efforts to cut its energy use. In another comparison, Google says it uses the same power needed for one load of laundry to enable three days of non-stop video streaming through its YouTube service.
Much of that increasingly efficient Google processing power is fueled today by renewable energy that Google continues to pursue, said Joe Kava, vice president of data centres at Google.
Google’s motivation for renewable power sparks from its online services. To power the data centres, an enormous amount of electricity is required. In 2011 alone, Google used 2.7 million megawatt-hours of power. That’s the equivalent of a year’s worth of electricity for 243,000 households (about the size of Austin, Texas).
To fuel those operations, Google has been on a mission to find renewable energy sources and to help to build more of them where they do not exist, Needham said. In the process, Google has found ways to make money off energy, he said, though the company declined to disclose ownership stakes or earnings for the company’s energy investments.
“We’ve said this is a place where we can really have a double win,” Needham said. “We can have attractive returns but at the same time help get to that future that we want to see, which is one where clean energy is ubiquitous and it’s economic.”
Google’s spending on renewable energy has surpassed even large energy companies. Exxon Mobil Corp., for example, has invested $200 million in renewable energy — a fifth of Google’s ante. Other oil giants, however, have invested far more, with BP committing $7.6 billion and Chevron Corp. funding $5.4 billion for renewable energy efforts.