Google renewable energy search
Bill Weihl, Google's green energy czar on the company's top picks for which alt-energy sources will rule the future.
The following is not a full transcript; for full story, listen to audio.
Just how power hungry is internet giant Google? "The Takeaway's" Power Trip heads to the Google campuses in Mountain View, California to find out. John Hockenberry sits down with Bill Weihl, the company's green energy czar (that's his title, no joke). On the interview agenda: the company's top picks for which alt-energy sources will rule the future clean energy economy, including solar with a twist. Plus, Weihl talks about the need for government energy subsidies, and why the company still isn’t talking about the power consumed by a Google search.
Weihl explains what he does: "My job is to make our operations cleaner, and do that in a way that helps the rest of the world get cleaner as well. What I've been doing since I've joining, about three years ago, is trying to figure out how we can reduce our carbon footprint. And we've done a lot internally to make our operations much more energy efficient -- make our servers more efficient, make our data centers more efficient -- but we still have emissions, we still consume energy.
And we have concluded that, as we've looked around at the whole space of renewable energy that there's a really fundamental problem: that at some level the world isn't facing up to it fast enough -- which is that renewable energy is too expensive.
Wind is two times the cost of coal today; geothermal is about the same ... solar ... is five times the cost of coal. So we are very focused on trying to find ways to make renewable energy cheaper, and to do that quickly."
What Google has done is to build some solar arrays; they've bought a fleet of electric cars; they have higher efficiency equipment for all their servers; they've also thrown millions of dollars at a company looking at windmills at high altitudes; they've put money into huge solar plants; and enhanced geothermal.
Weihl explains what that is: "The interesting thing about geothermal is if you drill deep enough, it's hot... traditional geothermal is what people might call hydrothermal power generation. The idea is you look for a place where there is hot water underground, close to the surface. So you don't have to drill very deep ... and you get to a big reservoir of hot water. And then you pull the water out to extract the heat ... to make electricity. The idea with enhanced geothermal is you drill very deep ... and get to an area to where its ... several hundred degrees centigrade, and then fracture the rock to create a space where you can then inject the water, and then cycle that water through to extract the heat.
If it can be made to work at reasonable cost, it has the potential to provide clean power virtually anywhere in the world; and furthermore unlike solar and wind which are intermittent, it's power that's there 24-7."
Weihl says the scale and expense of bringing clean renewable energy to market is too big a job for private energy: "There is clearly a strong role for government to fund either collaborative industry research, or university research, or research at national labs, to really try to drive ... innovation."
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