Google's "Clean Power by 2030" Plan Could Save U.S. $1 Trillion

Formalizing the plan that CEO Eric Schmidt discussed in September, Google has officially unveiled a very detailed proposal to help the U.S. kick its fossil fuel habit by 2030. Dubbed ‘Clean Energy 2030,’ the proposal calls for almost all of U.S. electricity to come from renewables by 2030 and almost all of new car sales by 2030 to be plug-ins. The search engine giant says while this plan will cost $4.4 trillion (in undiscounted 2008 dollars), it will ultimately save $5.4 trillion, delivering a net savings of $1 trillion over the life of the plan.

No wonder Google was recently declared the second most active cleantech investor for the third quarter. The plan is similar to Al Gore’s in calling for almost 100 percent of U.S. electricity to come from clean sources, but is more pragmatic in that it tacks on another 10 years to accomplish this very difficult goal. Google says we need to focus on three things to meet the proposal’s ambitious goals:

  • clean power, including building out transmission lines and implementing policies like a national renewable portfolio standard;
  • plug-in vehicle policy support, to boost ownership and EV infrastructure development; and
  • energy efficiency, including deploying smart meters and enacting policies to encourage efficiency.

When it comes to clean power Google outlines many specific steps. While wind and solar would provide most of the clean power — 380 GW and 250 GW respectively — Google notes that “geothermal energy is perhaps the sleeping giant” and could provide 80 GW (no surprises here, as it has invested in several enhanced geothermal startups and projects). Google also calls for a buildout of 20,000 miles of new transmission lines to support new renewable energy generation.

For personal transportation, Google says we need to sell 100,000 plug-in vehicles in 2010, 3.7 million in 2020 and 22 million in 2030. That will make up the bulk of new car sales and a little under half of the U.S. vehicle fleet. Traditional vehicles will need to become increasingly efficient — 45 mpg by 2030 — says Google, and we should offer incentives to get older inefficient vehicles off the roads.

Energy efficiency is the area where Google has been the least vocal, but could potentially offer the most support, by providing a lot of important communications data. So we we’re happy to see that Google says on its blog post announcing the plan:

When homes are equipped with smart meters and real-time pricing, research shows that energy use typically drops. Google is looking at ways that we can use our information technology and our reach to help increase awareness and bring better, real-time information to consumers.

Google has taken such a high-profile leadership role in energy for a few reasons. As Om pointed out today, Google uses a massive amount of energy to run data centers for its search and computing services. As Google requires more energy, it wants to make it cleaner and more efficient. The company has an enormous wealth of information that it can use to tackle the energy crisis, harnessing technology and intellectual property of the Internet and computing boom to fight climate change. Google’s Schmidt plans to go over the plan at the Common Wealth Club tonight, and we’ll bring you more of his thoughts after the event.