Google’s investment in wind generation

Lynne Kiesling

Yesterday Google announced that their ever-growing sustainability strategy now includes investing in wind generation. Although they pursue these opportunities through their philanthropic arm, they claim that they are looking for meaningful returns on their investments in addition to their sustainability impact:

To reach a clean energy future, we need three things: effective policy, innovative technology and smart capital. Through our philanthropic arm Google.org, we’ve been pushing for energy policies that strengthen the innovation pipeline, and we’ve been dedicating resources to developing new technologies, including making investments in early-stage renewable energy companies such as eSolar and AltaRock. Smart capital includes not only these early-stage company investments, but also dedicated funding for utility-scale projects. To tackle this need, we’ve been looking at investments in renewable energy projects, like the one we just signed, that can accelerate the deployment of the latest clean energy technology while providing attractive returns to Google and more capital for developers to build additional projects.

This moves adds to their portfolio of energy activities, including the Google PowerMeter and efforts to develop more energy efficient and green data center technologies and building techniques.

I do wonder, though, if such clean tech investments stretch the economies of scope in Google’s strategy. I’d love to know the exact arguments they have made internally in deciding on these renewable generation investments. While I think they take advantage of the expected policy environment (renewable portfolio standards, etc.), these investments are pretty different from Google’s traditional areas.

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One thought on “Google’s investment in wind generation

  1. This investment does seem different from their earlier investments, which were more directed at early-stage companies and emerging technologies. In this case they appear to be just another investor trying to harvest the value of subsidized wind power. For all the excited talk in the linked announcement, the adjustable pitch blades and 1.5 MW capacity of the turbines is fairly standard in new developments.

    However, wind farms can generate huge amounts of data (each turbine individually monitors wind speed and direction at the turbine height, each turbine can measure it own output, both of these data streams could be recorded at short intervals), and Google has the capability to manage huge data collections and they have some talented data analysts on staff. There are researchable questions in all of that data.

    I hope Google.org is getting data and plans to crunch it. In that way this effort could be more in the leveraging-growth spirit of the Google.org project, and not just a place to park some money in clean energy development.

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