Day 4: Envisioning the Future of Clean Energy
by Mike Nolan -- March 10th, 2010
After three days of visiting electricity generation sites, speaking with utilities, and learning about the culture for progressive energy-related policy and thought in San Francisco, we thought we had seen it all… and then we went to Google. Now I can die a happy man.
There is no other company in the world like Google. An overwhelming number of its employees ride bikes, or carpool to work. I hesitate to even use the word “work” to refer to what employees at Google do. On the campus we saw: a volleyball court, swimming pools (that’s right, there are more than one of them), video games, and doctor’s and chiropractor’s offices to name a few. Did I mention that all the food is free, organic, and locally produced?
After touring the facilities, we had a chance to sit down and hear from Bill Wiehl about Google.org and the energy-related initiatives at Google. Specifically, he talked to us about RE<C, REchargeIT, and the PowerMeter initiatives at Google. Feel free to check out the hyperlinks to learn more about each initiative, but in case you would prefer an overly brief synopsis of each, see below:
- RE<C – “Renewable Energy less than Coal”. The goal of this initiative is simple. Strategically invest in key technologies and policies that will drive down prices of renewable energy to the point where they are cheaper than the price of coal.
- REchargeIT – The REchargeIT initiative aims is to accelerate the mass commercialization of plug-in vehicles. The means by which Google.org hopes to accomplish this goal is by seeding innovation, demonstrating technology, and simulating market demand.
- PowerMeter – The PowerMeter is a free software tool that allows you to view your home’s real-time energy consumption using information from utility smart meters and in-home energy management devices.
Hopefully that wasn’t too simplified. I could go on for hours. Seriously, I love Google that much. I can ensure you that my colleagues on this trip feel the same. However, the show must go on, and after what seemed like only a moment, we continued on our way to our next stop at Better Place.
For those who don’t already know, Better Place is an electrical vehicle services and infrastructure provider. They install charging stations for plug-in and battery electric vehicles (see picture below), and battery exchange stations where customers can swap out their battery on longer trips. Better Place is currently rolling out scaled infrastructure in Denmark and Israel, with plans to expand to California by 2020. Their IT and business analytics were nothing short of something a Disney Imagineer dreams of.
Back at the hotel, we had a chance to hear from Current Group, a smart grid company that provides smart grid sensing products. These products help utilities control electricity flow through transmission lines to more closely meet demand, and offer large gains in energy efficiency and increased revenue in the process.
We capped of a truly educational day with a talk from A.J. Simon at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL). He told us all about Fusion Energy. The LLNL has already achieved laser fusion in a laboratory, and will likely do it again this year at a energy surplus. Although the potential for scaled fusion electricity potential is 20 to 50 years out, it’s still encouraging to learn about a future source of energy that has the potential to provide a huge amount of energy with a limited impact to the environment.
Our trip is almost complete, and we have hardly had a chance to digest what we saw and heard on this trip. The plan tonight is to head in to San Francisco, have a few laughs, and enjoy our last night together in California. Thanks for reading the blog! Feel free to drop us a line if you want to hear more about the trip.