Yesterday Google announced that they will be investing 168 million dollars into BrightSource Energy, making this their largest investment in renewable energy thus far. BrightSource is a farm in the Mojave desert that employs an Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System to produce clean, solar energy by utilizing fields of heliostats to concentrate the sun’s rays. The concentrated rays are directed towards the top of a tower where a receiver converts the rays into steam that powers a traditional turbine and generator to make electricity. The Ivanpah Power Tower will reach approximately 450 feet tall and will use 173,000 heliostats, each with two mirrors, and by the time the plant is up and running in 2013 it will be producing 392 MW of solar energy. Following last week’s announcement of Google’s 5 million dollar investment towards a solar photovoltaic farm in Brandenburg an der Havel Germany, plus several other smaller initiatives, the internet giant is taking huge strides towards having a significant impact on the future of renewable energy.
The plant began construction last October after getting approved by the California Energy Commission, and needs to raise more then a billion dollars to fully fund the project. In addition to Google, other investors include NRG Energy as the largest stakeholder committed to $300 million and a loan guaranteed from the U. S. Department of Energy for $1.37 million. After they’re up and running, two-thirds of the power from the plant will go to Pacific Gas and Electric, with the remaining one-third to Southern California Edison.
With Google’s subsidiary Google Energy, and the positive financial returns associated with these types of investments Google plans on doing more with these renewable resources than just powering their massive data centers. In an interview with Google’s Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl at Green:Net 2010 he goes into details about the company’s plans.
Since being approved by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to buy and sell energy on the wholesale markets Google is now able to do more to put renewable into the grid. When buying electricity on the grid one doesn’t necessarily know where or how the energy was produced. The way these markets work is that you pay someone to produce energy like regulated utilities or independent power producers (like wind and solar) who use the local utilities to distribute their power. What Google plans to do is when it comes to these alternative, renewable sources they will buy energy directly from that source. He goes on to explain that ideally this is done prior to the plant being built. When a company is looking to start a project like building a wind turbine farm they will most likely need to obtain financing from a bank. If they’re given the opportunity to go to their potential financeers and the energy is already purchased their interest rates go down significantly freeing up capital to fund future projects. Google sees this as the best way for them to use their purchasing power to impact the amout of renewable energy available on the grid.