"Don't be Evil" corporate slogans aside, Google has become pro at disrupting markets.
Just ask Yahoo or Microsoft. The computing companies were riding high until Google came along to dominate Internet search and advertising and grab engineering talent. Google now owns nearly 30 percent of all Internet advertising, and over 50 percent of all search traffic.
Or look at wireless companies, now quaking as Google enters their arena.
Now Google is turning to greentech, with an announcement Tuesday that it is making a significant push to develop and deploy renewable energies.
But if industry insiders are concerned that the search giant's newest foray means it will snap up talent, resources, and dollars from their competitive space, they're not saying.
"To solve the problem of energy and climate change, you have to connect the dots to the biggest corporations in the world," said Stephan Dolezalek, managing director of cleantech investments for VantagePoint Ventures. "Without their involvement you don't have enough scale [and] enough capital to make a difference. I don't think anybody is worried about Google becoming the dominant force in our electric infrastructure."
While he admitted Google could start competing with utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and equipment manufacturers like Applied Materials, Dolezalek said Google is more likely to speed up growth than steal away market share.
He added that Google is doing what all corporations should do: "thinking about how do we get actively involved in solving a problem that matters to every one of us."
Google's "Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal" (RE<C) initiative will hire 20 to 30 engineers and energy experts. The company said Tuesday it will spend tens of millions on internal research and development, and hundreds of millions in capital planning.
The program initially will focus onsolarthermal power. High-altitude wind energy and geothermal systems also were mentioned in the announcement.
The news presents a significant leap beyond Google's forays into clean energy, led by its philanthropic arm, Google.org. Those include a large solar installation in its Mountain View, Calif. office park and a $10 million investment in plug-in cars.
In a conference call, company spokespeople said Google is confident it can find a way to cost-effectively generate renewable energy for its data centers and office buildings and then sell off the extra energy it generates in the process.
"We have gained expertise in designing and building large-scale, energy-intensive facilities by building efficient data centers," Google co-founder and president of products Larry Page said in a statement. "Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades."
The news brought skepticism from Google analysts who saw little connection between energy and Google's core Internet business, and expressed concern that the search giant might be spreading itself too thin.
But cleantech industry investors, analysts, and entrepreneurs cheered on the investment -- and attention -- that Google might bring to their field.
The emphasis on solar thermal, in particular, could bring a spotlight to an under-considered source of renewable energy, industry insiders said.
"Nobody accuses Google of being a dumb company, and if they're getting into this then everyone else is going to think, 'There must be something there,'" said Robert Wilder, CEO of WilderShares, which manages clean-energy indices. "This could be very, very impactful."
Solar thermal power - electricity made by the sun's heat rather than its light - requires large, capital-intensive projects.
After years of languishing, it has seen a recent boost in investment from public utilities such as PG&E. That's because solar thermal requires less expensive technology than photovoltaic solar technologies that rely on the volatile silicon market, and can therefore grow larger more easily, analysts say.
"We welcome anybody, particularly with name recognition and the power to get the message out," said Charles Ricker, head of marketing and business development at BrightSource Energy, a solar thermal company that is currently planning projects that could generate 5 gigawatts of energy.
"Google is talking about 1 gigawatt and we believe the market is many many, many gigawatts worldwide, so we don't think they'll dominate."
Cleantech observers say the Google entry into cleantech could present a significant challenge to utility companies that have been slow to adopt renewable energies.
"Some utilities have had little incentive to be innovative and cutting edge, but if Google really makes renewable energy that's cheaper than coal, that could be very disruptive," Wilder said. "They're not going to suck all the air out of the room, but only grow the solar industry."