An 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.”