November 27, 2007

Google funding renewable energy cheaper than coal

Google is funding renewable energy cheaper than coal is working with two companies that have promising scalable energy technologies:

eSolar Inc., a Pasadena, CA-based company specializing in solar thermal power which replaces the fuel in a traditional power plant with heat produced from solar energy. eSolar's technology has great potential to produce utility-scale power cheaper than coal.

Makani Power Inc., an Alameda, CA-based company developing high-altitude wind energy extraction technologies aimed at harnessing the most powerful wind resources. High-altitude wind energy has the potential to satisfy a significant portion of current global electricity needs.

"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," Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president of products, said in a statement.

Working with its philanthropic arm, the company said it plans to spend tens of millions of dollars in 2008 on research and development and related efforts in renewable energy.

Eventually, the Mountain View, California-based company said it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars in "breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns."


Jack said...

Hi Brian, have you seen this article?

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts!

bw said...

Hi Jack

I have looked at nanosolar's technology before.

The 30 cents per watt is an interesting claim but it is the production cost and not the installed cost. It is just for the PV cells. You have pay people to install it and hook it up.

If the install cost of a solution do not come down then the total price for a 2.5 kw home system would still be $20000-30000 even if the PV part is only $800.

The other aspect is that 430 MW of name plate power for solar would take 10 years of production to equal the kw hours generated from a single 1 GW nuclear power plant.

In 2000, solar produced 844 million kWh 280MW in PV. So 430 MW would generate about 1.3 billion kwh. The united states is using about 4000 billion kwh of electricity. 790 billion kwh from 104 nuclear power plants and coal about 2000 billion kwh.

100 times Nanosolar's 2008 production would start to chip away significantly at coal and in 20 years after reaching 100 times production would have displaced coal.

Anonymous said...

Some times you just have to say thank heavens for Google.

al fin said...

This google announcement reminds me of the great "War on Cancer" and the "War on Poverty" by the US government back in the 60s and 70s. Thank goodness we have no more cancer and poverty these days.

The pivot point for renewable energy is electric/energy storage. Not production. Production technology for renewable energy progresses in a steady, evolutionary fashion. We need an energy storage revolution.

Google is full of hubris obviously. But this is a problem, unlike search engines and mobile phone operating systems, that is not soluble through software engineering.

The people who believe that throwing billions of dollars at complex problems will solve them, or even necessarily accelerate the solution, have not thought the problem through.

Anonymous said...

Oh Al you Grinchy curmudgeon! Sell your oil co. stocks already, we're at the top of the cycle!

There are technologies seemingly already here that can produce energy at cheaper rates than pulling dinosaurs and millions of year old pond scum out of the ground. When oil took over from coal it took a large capital investment to improve refinement chemistry to make it the gas we have today. Now its the turn of new technologies.

For example I ran across this today :

It talks about algal bio-reactors that can create 100K bpd per acre for a 1 million/acre build out.

If aprrox 100 000 bpd of biofuel can be made per acre per year and American consumption is approx 21 million barrels a day,
then the per day usage would take 210 acres and the per year would be under 77000 acres = 120.3125 square miles to replace fossil with renewable fuels.

The costs of build out are currently about 1 million per acre however, so we're talking 77 billion dollars if no economy of scale or reductions can be found. Thats about what.... 16.2% the cost of the Iraq war to date( my favorite comparison, based on the C.O.B. figures).

However, if we consider that the product can be sold, say at $30 a barrel, then the income from an acre is 3 million a year... enough to recoup almost double the investment if we don't consider operating costs. Lets call it 1.5x recoup, per year. Suddenly doesn't seem like its throwing money down a hole ( or into the pork barrel and OPEC coffers) anymore hmmm?

bw said...

the algae ponds are not at commercial production yet. There are challengesf or oil from algae. Separating the algae from the water efficiently, yhese facilities cost quite a bit, controlling the rate of growth can also be a problem.

Then there is the question of using biologically enhanced organisms or a mixture of naturally occurring species. Enhanced organisms can produce more oil per cell. However, they may not thrive if foreign species enter the pond. The industry is also in the midst of a few religious wars. One is controlled versus open ponds

Companies such as LiveFuels, GreenFuel Technologies and Solazyme hope to start seeing algae oil get into the fuel markets in a substantial way over the next few years, but it's still mostly experimental. GreenFuel recently hit some snags and changed CEOs.

algae oil basics

Spaceman Beren said...

This seems like the right kind of problem to have if you ask me:

( From C|Net article about CEO changeover in algal biofuel company)

A memo allegedly from Metcalfe and posted by Xconomy stated the following:

"Our current third-generation engineering scale greenhouse grew algae faster than expected, demonstrating again that CO2 recycling and algae productivity can be achieved at scale in our high-technology greenhouses. However, this very success triggered failure, as we could not harvest the rapidly growing algae quickly enough. Their unexpected density limited light and nutrient supply, which caused them to start dying. As a result, the greenhouse had to be shut down."