Execs at Google have been very vocal about how they want to speed up the pace of innovation in the greentech industry — they’ve developed their own energy tools, invested in greentech startups and even engineered their own solar hardware. But at an event at Google’s offices in San Francisco on Monday night, the company’s director of climate change and energy initiatives, Dan Reicher, said that Google will soon make a step into clean energy project investing. How exactly Google plans to do that, Reicher didn’t elaborate, but Reicher has made similar comments before about how Google wants to become more active in helping clean power projects cross the so-called “valley of death,” where promising technologies can easily flounder from lack of funding between the research and development stage and the commercialization stage.
Back in February 2008 at the Clean Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., Reicher told the audience that Google plans to fund “high-risk” clean energy projects that have proven difficult to finance. Google has the capital to take on those high-risk projects, explained Reicher back then. It was the same sentiment at the meeting at Google’s headquarters on Monday, in which Reicher reiterated that it was taking too long to move from “light bulb to light bulb,” or the idea to the product.
Moving into project finance would be a new step for the search engine giant, but wouldn’t be entirely out of character. Google has always seemed eager to invest in areas outside its core competency, and Google has already directly invested into the companies that build these projects, like solar thermal firms BrightSource and eSolar. If Google ends up providing a particularly high amount of funds for project financing, it would turn heads.
Reicher also said several times that Google supports the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA), a group that has been created by a current Senate bill, and would also help move greentech startups through the valley of death. That group would be an independent administration within the Department of Energy and would provide loans, loan guarantees and other credit enhancements to help lure private capital off the sidelines. Reicher testified before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources about Google’s support of CEDA back in April, and Reicher suggested then that CEDA be allowed to take equity positions in funded companies, and be able to acquire rights to invest in future projects on favorable terms.
While Google played the host at the event on Monday night, the speakers on the panel represented universities that are also working hard to speed up the innovation pipeline, including Dan Kammen, Director of the Renewable Energy Lab at UC Berkeley, Lynn Orr, Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford, and Ernie Moniz, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative. MIT’s Moniz pointed out that the history of the energy industry has awarded cheap power with little innovation, but over the next few decades it will be forced to undergo a massive transformation with innovation in an extremely short timeframe.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user rajeshvj