Google Backs German Solar Farm


Looks like Google’s wind power investments last year aren’t its last clean energy bets. On Thursday afternoon, Google (s GOOG) announced on its European policy blog that it will invest €3.5 million ($5 million USD) into a solar photovoltaic farm in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany, which is near Berlin.

The 18.7 MW solar farm is already fully constructed across 116 acres, and Google says at least 70 percent of the farm is made up of solar modules made by German manufacturers. Private equity company Capital Stage invested alongside Google in the solar farm.

There are a couple of reasons Google likes to invest in clean energy projects. First is just for the returns. In May 2010, Google announced it planned to invest $38.8 million into 169.5 MW worth of wind projects developed by NextEra Energy Resources in North Dakota. As Rick Needham, Google’s green business operations manager, told me last year, the North Dakota wind farms “were attractive because they offered good returns for our capital, based on the risks of the projects, and allowed us to partner with experienced developers and investors.”

Later that summer, Google followed up by announcing its subsidiary Google Energy — which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved last year to buy and sell energy on the whole sale markets — would make its first deal and buy clean power from a wind farm in Iowa. Google said it wouldn’t actually be using the clean energy in Iowa to power any of its operations, but planned to instead sell that power back to the grid operator there in exchange for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).

But as Google’s Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl (who will be speaking at Green:Net 2011 on April 21 in San Francisco) made it clear to us, Google Energy is also ultimately about being able to procure energy, specifically clean energy, to power the search engine giant’s data centers. Google can enter into a power purchase agreement contract with, say, a wind developer, agree to buy the wind power before the wind farm is built, and help the developer get a better interest rate for the financing of the plant. Given Google’s data centers largely already have their own power sources, Google could then sell the wind power on the open market until one of its data center power contracts expired.

Google could theoretically do something similar with its solar investment in Germany. Google didn’t announce it would buy the solar power via Google Energy, but perhaps that announcement is down the road somewhere, particularly if Google owns half the farm with a private equity firm. Does anyone know if Google has a data center near Brandenburg an der Havel? Check out a video clip of Weihl being interviewed about green energy and data centers at Green:Net 2010.

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