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Summary:

Google’s gotten all steamed up on its quest to make renewable energy cheaper than coal and today has announced $10.25 million in investments in geothermal technologies. Specifically, the money is going towards a technology known as “enhanced geothermal systems,” an approach that doesn’t require existing steam […]

Google’s gotten all steamed up on its quest to make renewable energy cheaper than coal and today has announced $10.25 million in investments in geothermal technologies. Specifically, the money is going towards a technology known as “enhanced geothermal systems,” an approach that doesn’t require existing steam vents or subterranean water sources (check out the video from Google after the jump of one of the world’s first commercial EGS plants).

Instead, the EGS method cracks into hot rocks, circulates water through the system and uses the steam to power a traditional turbine. The funds have been split between two startups, AltaRock Energy and Potter Drilling, in addition to a grant for the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab.

The money is being deployed through Google.org’s “Renewable Energy Less Than Coal” initiative. The potential of EGS is huge, as it can be set up to generate power almost anywhere. Google cites a recent report by the DOE and MIT on EGS that estimated that 100 gigawatts of cost-competitive power could be generated from EGS with “reasonable investment in R&D.”

  1. AltaRock Energy: $6.25 million investment to develop innovative technologies to achieve significant cost reductions and improved performance in EGS projects. Founded in 2007 by Susan Petty, who worked on the aforementioned MIT EGS study, and Don O’Shei, who served as President and COO of CalEnergy. The company is headquartered in Sausalito, Calif., and is focused on R&D to drive down the cost of EGS in the short-term. Update: Google’s investment was part of a larger round that totaled $26.25 million for AltaRock and included Khosla Ventures, Kleiner
    Perkins Caufield & Byers and Vulcan Capital.
  2. Potter Drilling: $4 million investment to develop new approaches to lower the cost and expand the range of deep, hard-rock drilling specifically for EGS development. Founded in 2004 by father and son Bob and Jared Potter, the company pulls on the experience of Potter the Elder who worked on EGS at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1970s.
  3. Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory: $489,521 grant to improve understanding of the size and distribution of geothermal energy resources and to update geothermal mapping of North America. The most recent map of America’s geothermal resources was printed in 2005.

Google says the funds will also push forward a policy agenda for geothermal energy. As Google continues to make energy investments, policy will be an increasingly important factor. In Google.org’s most recent blog post, the philanthropic arm of the search giant calls for “more aggressive government policies to help catch up to other nations, including expanded R&D funding, a national renewable portfolio standard, and reliable tax incentives.”

Google.org continues to expand its energy portfolio this summer. The green energy initiative started off last year with plays in wind, with stealthy Makani, and solar, with Bill Gross’s eSolar, and made mention of intentions to invest in geothermal. Google built out its solar plays with a big investment in BrightSource. Then, earlier this summer, following Google.org’s conference on plug-in electric cars, the firm invested in electric transportation in Aptera and ActaCell.

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