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Summary:

Despite that Google is ending its efforts to reduce the cost of clean power below coal, we’ve actually made it there. And clean power entrepreneur Jigar Shah says to Google: Thank you for pioneering this, and it’s time to declare it a victory!

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I just read a blog post by Todd Woody, entitled “Are Google’s Green Days Over,” because the company announced it was ending its RE<C initative (Renewable Energy cheaper than Coal). But, as Todd noted, that is not the whole story as mentioned in Google’s blog post on the announcement.

But to give it context, allow me to flashback.

In September of 2008, I attended a gala in San Francisco held by the Corporate Eco-Forum.  At it, Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt laid out a vision of how we might move the entire country to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030. Amazingly, the country is on track to meeting that goal with thousands of MWs of solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and small hydro added each year since 2008.

To support the effort, Google launched RE<C. With renewable energy costs plummeting and coal prices rising since the announcement, Google has largely witnessed this goal met.  But interestingly, it wasn’t with its own investments. What really accomplished the goal was the high profile nature of the challenge. Thousands of entrepreneurs chipped away day and night and rolled out incremental improvements to renewable energy that had a huge cumulative impact on cost and deployment speed.

The result of this work is that today, new renewables are cheaper than new coal and new natural gas. For the 1.6 billion people without electricity, renewable energy is cheaper than over $80 billion in kerosene and diesel subsidies provided last year – as well as the over $30 billion that poor people actually pay for the subsidized kerosene and diesel.

In fact, according to the REN21 (Renewable Energy Policy for the 21st Century) report, 50 percent of all electricity installed last year globally was renewable. Plus, investment in renewable electricity reached over 65 percent of the $360+ billion invested into new electricity assets in 2010. In fact, solar PV received more investment than new coal, natural gas, or nuclear in 2010 – not that anyone noticed.

So, beyond Todd Woody’s headline, as well as other reports, was this excerpt from Google’s post: “At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level,” Urs Hölzle, Google’s senior vice president of operations. “So we’ve published our results to help others in the field continue to advance the state of power tower technology, and we’ve closed our efforts.”

Hölzle noted that Google has increased investment in renewable energy technologies investing $850 million in other renewable companies.  So Google has clearly noticed that RE<C started the ball rolling, but unfortunately even Google did not feel the confidence to declare it a victory.

So, for getting us here, I say to Google: “Thank you.” I thank them not only for organizing the world’s information, but for pioneering the world’s starting point for these investments that will make such a big impact. My only criticism is that Google didn’t “declare victory!”

Jigar Shah is the CEO of the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change and create a post-carbon economy. By bringing project finance and growth capital together with infrastructure entrepreneurs, corporations, governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), he identifies and eliminates market barriers, driving environmental improvements alongside economic growth.

Shah founded SunEdison in 2003 with a new business model, the solar power services agreement business (SPSA). The SPSA uses mature technologies and required no new legislative action. The SPSA model launched solar services into a multibillion dollar industry. SunEdison now has more solar energy systems and megawatts under management than any other company.

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