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Search engine giant Google and conglomerate GE have announced a partnership to collaborate on energy policy and technology, including pushing for a smarter electricity grid, cleaner power generation and greener transportation. GE’s CEO and Chairman Jeffrey Immelt and Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt made the announcement from Zeitgeist, an annual gathering at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, where Schmidt interviewed Immelt and applauded GE’s pioneering role in building energy technology.
The partnership between the two companies will focus on both technology and policy, because, as the companies wrote in a note, “the current regulatory and economic model is failing to drive the innovation and investment we need in today’s electric grid.” Immelt, a longtime Republican who advocates hands-off government and freedom of the market, said during the presentation that sometimes government needs to be “a catalyst for change.”
Initially, the companies will work on policy aimed at building out more electricity transmission lines, which will connect renewable energy to the grid, as well as implementing smart grid technology. Google and GE will jointly develop policy proposals, advocate and analyze policies, and develop media and information campaigns. During the presentation, both Schmidt and Immelt — as well as former Vice President Al Gore, who was in the audience — lamented the inability thus far of congress to renew the clean energy tax credits that will expire before the end of the year.
When it comes to technology, the companies will start out by collaborating on enhanced geothermal and plug-in vehicles, specifically electric-vehicle-enabling technologies, including software and services that help utilities. Google has recently invested in both areas (via Google.org). In August Google said it would invest $10.25 million into AltaRock Energy and Potter Drilling, in addition to a grant for the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab. And in July Google said it has invested $2.75 million investment in green vehicle startups Aptera Motors and ActaCell.
GE has pledged to invest $1.5 billion annually on its Ecomagination R&D by 2010. Ecomagination is the term GE uses to describe its eco products initiatives, which now includes 45 energy- and environment-related products and services, including energy-efficient lighting, hybrid vehicle systems and wind and solar technology. Immelt has been lauded for leading GE’s charge into eco-goods. The company’s goal is to reach $20 billion in Ecomagination sales by 2010.