Google’s clean power ambitions are ramping up. The company has hired Philip Gleckman, former chief scientist at solar thermal startup eSolar, to work on solar tech internally for Google, Green Energy Reporter first reported, and we’ve confirmed with Google.
Google’s Parag Chokshi, who heads up Clean Energy Public Affairs, told me in an email that Gleckman “has a wealth of experience in this sector and his expertise will obviously add to our research and development work with RE<C.” RE<C is geek speak for Google’s renewable energy cheaper than coal project, which was launched back in late 2007 with the goal to spend “tens of millions of dollars on R&D,” and ultimately produce a “gigawatt of renewable energy capacity,” in years, not decades. Chokshi said the solar research is “proprietary and ongoing.”
Google’s Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl has mentioned Google’s internal efforts to build solar thermal mirrors before. Solar thermal technology works by using large mirrors and lenses to reflect the sun onto a liquid that is turned into steam and runs a steam turbine, producing electricity. Utilities in California and other sunny states like Arizona, have been working with third parties like eSolar and BrightSource to get large utility-scale solar thermal plants built in the deserts.
Weihl told Reuters a year ago that Google had started developing its own solar thermal mirrors because there has been a lack of industry innovation around the technology — basically if you want something done right, do it yourself (even if it’s utterly outside of your scope of business). Weihl said back then that Google is looking to cut the cost of developing the solar mirrors by at least a factor of 2 (but ideally a factor or 3 or 4) by using unusual materials. A Google spokesperson said at the time that Google had a “handful of dedicated full-time green engineers” working on green technologies as part of its RE<C project. Gleckman just climbed aboard that team.
Google has invested in both solar thermal companies eSolar and BrightSource, so is clearly trying to bring down the cost of solar in a variety of ways. This isn’t the first time that Google has decided to design hardware outside of its core competency. Google famously builds its own servers and data centers instead of contracting with third parties because the search engine giant says it can make them more efficiently.
Google also recently made a major move to buy clean power from a wind farm through its subsidiary Google Energy, which can buy and sell energy on the wholesale markets. I speculated in a longer article on GigaOM Pro (subscription required) that Google could buy the wind power potentially to one day use it to power data centers. On that note, Google could potentially build its own solar thermal farms with its own solar thermal tech to power its data centers. A stretch, but an idea.
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