Disturbing Reasons Google Stopped Renewables R&D

November 20, 2014 By Linda Hardesty

google-sign-energy-manageAn article in Spectrum IEEE explained why Google backed off a research and development project it began in 2007 known as RE<C, which aimed to produce a gigawatt of renewable power more cheaply than a coal-fired power plant could.

RE<C research projects included such technologies as self-assembling wind turbine towers, drilling systems for geothermal energy and solar thermal power systems.

But in 2011, Google decided that RE<C would not do enough to help solve climate change and pulled the plug on the project. Two engineers who worked on RE<C said in the Spectrum IEEE story that it became clear that renewable energy technologies, even if adopted on a massive scale, would not be as cheap as coal-fired power plants, and frighteningly, would not prevent climate change.

The reason: CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for more than a century so climate change is already well underway.

Staving off disaster will require reducing emissions but also finding some way of pulling CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it, according to the Spectrum IEEE article.

The article ends with the Google scientists exhorting the scientific community to think about truly disruptive technologies to remove CO2 from the air or cleanse the air in some way.

“Fortunately, new discoveries are changing the way we think about physics, nanotechnology, and biology all the time,” they write. “While humanity is currently on a trajectory to severe climate change, this disaster can be averted if researchers aim for goals that seem nearly impossible.”

7 comments on “Disturbing Reasons Google Stopped Renewables R&D

  1. Nothing on its own is going to end climate change. I understand that companies are trying and testing technologies to make sure their investments have the best impact for the money. At the same time, technology will always be evolving, so we shouldn’t wait to implement simply because we don’t have the perfect solution. Every sector needs to be doing something to reduce their emissions and live more sustainably. Homes still use 40% of the US’s energy, so no one should be saying “someone else needs to figure this out”.

  2. The spectrum article does not even mention nuclear power, even though its recommended by Hansen whose arguments are the reasons for Google’s Renewables R&D demise. I guess comupter guys are into electrons not neutrons. But its really nuclear power, stupid.

  3. As a mechanical engineer designing sustainable type projects for over 25 years, I know climate change has been occurring throughout earth’s history. It is irrelevant whether global climate change is man-made or not. We should continue to be sustainable is every sector and industry. I have been saying for the last 15 years to all my constituents that as Architects & Engineers, we should be designing our infrastructure to be able to endure and survive the inevitable climate change. Unfortunately businesses are more interested in making profits than the future environment of our home planet. Therefore the best way to encourage business to be sustainable is for the governments to not only make stricter laws to build sustainable infrastructures and produce sustainable energy but, to also implement lucrative tax breaks and incentives to make sustainability projects an attractive return on investment decision. This will only happen when all type of government parties stop acting self-centered and stop being greedy and stop fighting each other and other nations to actually do their jobs to enabling their countries and people to flourish.

  4. 70% of the buildings existing today will still be here in 30 years, and buildings of all types use more energy and natural resources than the transportation industry or another industry, so one of the best ways to conserve energy and reduce GHG emissions is to make buildings more efficient.
    The problem here is being able to convince the owners to do this when so many of them will only consider energy conservation measures (ECM) if the simple payback is less than 2 years.

    Companies who perform energy audits need to learn how to make the type of presentations that will resonate with the financial officers, get them off the simple payback kick and show them how these projects will contribute to their bottom line – and maybe without any actual capital expenditures on their part.

  5. Whoops. The last part of the last sentence should have read “and maybe without any out-of-pocket capital expenditure on their part, especially if they’re in a PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) state or municipality”

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