Google's Eric Schmidt Details Energy Plan, Chides Lack of Leadership

37 Comments

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, along with Google’s energy gurus Dan Reicher and Bill Weihl, have so far served as the search giant’s most outspoken representatives of its plans to create new energy solutions. But at a dinner for the Corporate EcoForum on Monday night, Google CEO Eric Schmidt outlined a plan to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil, fight climate change and create green jobs. And Schmidt took direct aim at world leaders, contending: “We have a total failure of political leadership, at least in the U.S., and perhaps the world.”

In his speech, Schmidt called for 100 percent of U.S. power generation to come from green power in about 20 years, as well as the replacement of half of the nation’s traditional cars with plug-in hybrids. Cleaning up the power grid would lead to the creation of 500,000 jobs in wind alone, Schmidt claimed; his plan would also allegedly reduce emissions by half.

Schmidt also spoke at length about the antiquated power grid: “We’ve got to solve the grid problem,” he said, noting that 9 percent of efficiency is lost in the current architecture. And like most infotech titans, he called for integrating technologies borne out of the Internet revolution to the grid; sophisticated routing, switching and networking technologies didn’t yet exist when the grid was built. The opportunity to remake the grid is not unlike the opportunities of the Internet and the PC, he said.

Schmidt was most passionate, however, when he chided political leadership for a failure to act. There is a lack of understanding about how technology can change the dialogue, he said. The government is about to pass a massive stimulus package, so instead of randomly handing out cash to the all the usual suspects, “Why not retool the energy infrastructure in the U.S?”

When we asked Schmidt if, given his concern over a lack of leadership, he was looking to either of the presidential candidates’ energy solutions as a better option, he declined to back one candidate over the other. He said simply that he would urge politicians to stop looking at the near-term energy options and look instead at the bigger energy picture.

Schmidt’s speech reminded us of a more business-savvy amalgamation of the calls for action put out by former Vice-President Al Gore and former Intel (s intl) Chairman Andy Grove. Gore has called for 100 percent of electricity to come from clean power, but in a decade — roughly half the timeline that Schmidt laid out. But Gore in that latest speech, didn’t really address the issue of transportation. Grove, meanwhile, has called for 10 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the roads in four years — somewhat different than Schmidt’s vision — but has been similarly vocal about the need to recreate the PC- and Internet-type revolutions for energy, noting, in particular, that the aftermarket for plug-in conversions is not unlike that of PC hobbyists back in the day.

Schmidt distinguished himself from those two by urging corporate America to view energy efficiency as an opportunity to reduce costs and increase return on investment. Google has create a scorecard to help boost energy efficiency, particularly in buildings — it was easy to do and saved the company money, he stressed.

So far Google has been by far the most committed company in the Internet sector to investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green transportation. The search engine giant has committed to hundreds of millions of dollars for research and investment into clean power, including recent investments in wind, enhanced geothermal and plug-in vehicle startups.

Google has even recently patented a floating wave-powered data center as a way to both get data centers closer to users while utilizing clean power. Schmidt said he thought putting data centers on floating barges was a clever idea, adding with a shrug, “You never know.”

37 Comments

islam

yes of course
Grove, meanwhile, has called for 10 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the roads in four years — somewhat different than Schmidt’s vision — but has been similarly vocal about the need to recreate the PC- and Internet-type revolutions for energy, noting, in particular, that the aftermarket for plug-in conversions is not unlike that of PC hobbyists back in the day.

Charles Barton

The Google 2030 energy plan is nuts. Plan author Jeffery Greenblatt, was previously employed by the fanatically antinuclear Environmental Defense Fund. This will explain why the Google plan ignores the expansion of nuclear energy that is already on the drawing boards of many American electrical utilities. The plan ignores limitations of hydro-electricity, the fact that geothermal sources are mainly located on the west cost and close to Yellowstone Park. Even worse the plan ignores the limitations of solar and wind generated electricity. Recent plans to generate 50% of California’s electricity from renewables were found to cost $777 billion in the case of solar, and $335 billion in the case of wind. In contrast, generating the same amount of electricity with nuclear power would cost no more $192 billion. Thus Solar and wind would be far more expensive than nuclear power.

FredB

Has anyone stopped to consider that the dreaded climate change is not some man made calamity, but part of the Earth’s own metamorphosis? Did the Earth look the same during the time Socrates as it did when the Dinosaurs roamed the surface? The Dinosaur extinction is blamed on a huge meteorite, but did that also cause Pangaea to break up?

Larry Furman

Al Gore and Eric Schmidt are right. Electricity costs increase by 15% per year where I live in NJ. That means they double every 5 years. So if you’re were paying $100 per month in 2003, you’re paying $200 per month today, and you’ll be paying $400 per month in 2013.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate carbon – and consequently plans for new coal plants are being canceled, as the bankers are concerned about ROI from new coal plants. So we need to engineer a transition to use solar and wind – and the technology exists today – and new technologies.

But solar and wind, because they convert light or kinetic energy into electric energy do not use any external fuel. They are inherently more thermodynamically efficient than burning fossil fuel. The machines are inherently simpler.

I think we should build 100 GigaWatts of land based wind, like T. Boone Pickens is building in west Texas. 100 GW of offshore wind, like Blue Water Wind is building off of Delaware, and 50 GW of solar.

To paraphrase the commercials –
100 GW land based wind – $200 Billion.
100 GW offshore wind – $400 Billion.
50 GW PV solar – $325 Billion.
Total Cost – $925 Billion.
Saving the earth and the economy – Priceless.

Pickens forecasts $2 Billion per GW for his Texas wind farms. People I know in the offshore wind business say it’s about twice as expensive to build offshore. The Atlantic City Utilities Authority Solar Array cost about $6.50 per watt.

The thing is, these technologies are simpler, scalable, decentralized. You can scale solar and wind from the residential level to the utility. And with no fuel, there are no fuel costs, no fuel spills, no mines, no mills, no toxic wastes, no radioactive wastes. Sure not everyone benefits – if we stop buying oil our good friends in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela will lose money. And if we stop mining coal, the coal miners will be out of work. But I think they can be retrained pretty quick to build PV solar modules and wind turbine blades.

kerry bradshaw

Eric Schmidt, prime monopolist and goofball, claims that there is a “lack of leadership.” What a jerkface.
What does he expect the leadesrship to do, run around talking about carbon emissions every day. That would be one way to bore the public and get them tired of listening to this less-than-convincing crap. Now I see that an astrophysicist is predicting a coming cold period – the sunspots are the key – they every single time in the past 500 years when ther has been a period of sunspot minima , it has been followed by a cold spell. Remember the Little Ice Age, when glaciers moved well down into the inhabited continents? Well that was preceded by a sunspot minima. The mechanism is that solar magnetic radiation changes, causing cloud formations , leading to excessive cooling of the Earth surface. And we all know (although many don’t) that the water vapor system is the prime greenhous gas, acounting for 98%, not the carbon dioxide, which acounts for a mere 1%. Thu srelatively small changes in the water vapor system can cause very large changes in the climate. The scientist calls carbom emissions “a drop in the bucket.” I also note that none of the climatologist’s models that have led to claims of global warming model water vapor in any sort of realistic fashion. I also note that last month there were no sunspots on the Sun’s surface. That last happened 100 years ago. I therefore refuse to believe that global warming is the threat – it’s obviouslt global cooling, which can lead to mass starvation. Global warming would hold few dangers.
Therefore it’s quite obvious that we should be far more concerned about global cooling.

Googly Boy

If not for Google and their like we would spending a fortune on gas: Traipsing down to the library, posting mail, lugging directories and the encyclodepia Brittanica.

MoJo

Before you make a judgment on what Arjun says, read his book – he most certainly does tie in all of these factors and the costs are there.

McCain’s plan to build 45 reactors would cost, today and the cost is rising every day, approx. $315 Billion. And, with no way to figure the actual cost because I have yet to see a formula for figuring the costs of keeping the waste completely isolated from the environment for over 250,000 years!

Jim

I don’t see the economic or technical case in abandoning nuclear power. On the other hand, I do see problems in trying to sustain the grid with 100% intermittent sources. This can’t be done without huge additional costs. Mahkijani attempts to remedy this somewhat with greater efficiency at the consumption level, but again, this will all be costly to develop, especially in the case of retrofitting existing homes and businesses.

I don’t think any of these people have tried to tie the bow around all these ideas to see if they are actually viable. And if they are, at what cost?

MoJo

Actually, Google’s energy plan looks a whole heck of a lot like the roadmap developed by Arjun Mahkijani of IEER (ieer.org) in Carbon-Free Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy (.www.ieer.org/carbonfree/) The complete book is on the website as well as executive summary, news release and articles, etc.

If you don’t think it can be done read the book and you’ll see it most certainly can. Everything is mapped out and the numbers are tight. Arjun has never had his numbers or his engineering questioned in the many, many years he has been working on these kinds of issues.

Infosphere

This is a good thing. Google is a massive consumer of energy and besides human resources, energy is probably one of their highest costs and one that could have the biggest impact on their operating expenses — look at their efforts to build data centers near dams and other sources of cheap power.

At their scale and projected growth, this becomes a big problem fast so they have an incentive to help the entire industry and world transition since their core service is dependent on a ready supply of cheap energy. They have already been pushing out improvements with power supplies and I am glad to see all of their efforts (and any company) to help the world transition to a renewable energy future.

matt

Has anyone seen Google (or one of the other search engines) provide a figure on the power required per search?

I’m assuming that Google must have disclosed some data on (a) Total energy usage and (b) Total number of search queries. We could just divide (a)/(b), but this would obviously include some non-search energy usage (eg. daycare, cafeteria, masseuse, orkut, etc) Anybody have a figure?

Tony

Wow, they must be smoking some good stuff over in Mountain View!

While they’re at it, maybe Google can solve the problem of Martian warming, too, resurrect the Silicon Valley housing bubble, and walk on water.

9% loss in the electrical system – sounds pretty good to me. Just compare to the efficiency of almost everything else (like cars and the Google 767 jumbo jet).

Plug-in hybrids have a lot of problem – for a more realistic & real world approach, go over to Paul Rako’s Anablog ( http://www.edn.com/blog/1700000170.html ) and look at his electric car entries.

Deep Patel

Doug,

as a shareholder you should be happy that google is investing in energy. Google is a mega energy consumer, do you understand energy is a huge part of their operating expenses? If electricity rates just increase one percent that is huge decrease to the bottom line for google that is why they are investing in energy, to take control of their expenses thus improving the bottom line. This the the core problem with shareholders these days, all they care about is short term performance and not long term value.

Eats Wombats

Actually, your entitled-shareholder comment is more outrageous.

I think a reasonable case can be made for Sergey and Larry’s judgement and the chances of their hiring someone who knows nothing about technology are nil. Given, they could hire almost anyone, with a few exceptions such as Bill Gates, that says something in itself. Eric was already highly respected. Why not go find out where John Scully has gone and invest in whatever he’s up to?

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is an externality called climate change that we need to be concerned about. Google is setting a good example.

In case you also didn’t realize it, it’s THE LAW in Europe that a company has to take the social and environmental consequences of its actions into account. And if you think Google wants to thumb its nose at the EU, think again, and check why it’s just decided to anonymize IP data after 9 months.

Doug

This is a bit of an outrage. Their core business is not renewable energy. Their stock is down significantly from its 52-week high (I’m a shareholder). I don’t want Eric Schmidt (who frankly doesn’t know the first thing about energy; he barely understands technology) talking about green energy investments. I understand they consume a lot of energy, but that doesn’t address the top line and has a marginal effect on earnings.

Quit playing around and get back to work Eric!

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