Tech-heavy Google is getting into one of the least scientific, but most important, segments of the green business: putting up the money to build power plants.
During an evening symposium at Google's headquarters in San Francisco, Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google, told a group of greentech specialists that the search giant would soon take the leap into investing in energy projects – i.e., renewable power plants.
"How do we get medium and large scale projects off the ground" is one of the dilemmas facing the alternative energy industry, he said.
Later, we asked him to clarify whether Google would invest in projects directly, or invest in companies that specialize in project finance. Google is examining all of the options, Reicher said, waving his hands. Although project finance may not have the scientific luster of advanced geothermal drilling, it's not easy, he added. He used to work in project finance before he came to Google. Some of the traditional sources for this kind of funding are no longer as active as they once were.
The move into project finance represents something of a shift for Google. To date, it has invested in companies promoting technologies, such as solar thermal specialists BrightSource Energy and eSolar. Many startups, however, have found themselves stumped in the past year by dismal economic circumstances. They possess novel technologies but don't have the financial resources to get off the ground. Ironically, that description applies to both BrightSource and eSolar.
BrightSource teamed up with Bechtel, the large builder, and sold part of a power plant project in Ivanpah in exchange for Bechtel's assistance in weaving through the financial and logistical jungle needed to get the multi-megawatt project off the ground. eSolar, meanwhile, once planned on building its own power plants. While eSolar says it will still participate in building power plants, it also just sells equipment and licenses its technology to larger, more well-heeled companies.
Reicher also mentioned several times during the seminar about how the company supports the creation of a Clean Energy Deployment Administration, which would be a group within the Department of Energy charged with ensuring projects can go from the proverbial A to B. The creation of CEDA is part of a bill proposed by U.S. Senators Jeff Binagman and Lisa Murkowski.