Google is to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research into cheap, renewable sources of electricity.
The new initiative is called RE<C, as Google is looking for technology that produces power from renewable energy sources for less cost than electricity from coal.
In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on R&D and related investments in renewable energy, the company said in a statement.
As part of its capital planning process, the company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns, it said.
The company is known for branching into technologies beyond its search engine roots, but the RE<C is easily its biggest piece of diversification yet.
Google said it will hire engineers and experts to lead the R&D efforts, and currently has four senior-level research posts listed as open on its web site.
At first, the initiative will look at renewable energy sources including solar, wind, geothermal and other potential breakthrough technologies.
Solar thermal technology, for example, provides a very plausible path to providing renewable energy cheaper than coal, Google president of products Larry Page said. We are also very interested in further developing other technologies that have potential to be cost-competitive and green.
Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal, he said. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades.
The company said that a gigawatt is enough to power a city the size of San Francisco, a high-tech center with roughly 750,000 residents.
Google’s announcement came as a US government representative, speaking at conference at UN headquarters in New York, called on the IT industry to become less wasteful. A number of other companies have also revealed initiatives (see separate story).
The company said it will make strategic investments and grants that demonstrate a path toward producing energy at an unsubsidized cost below that of coal-fired power plants.
Google said it is already working with two California companies: eSolar, a solar thermal power company based in Pasadena, and Makani Power, which is working on high-altitude wind power technology.