Junk Science: Google is literally and figuratively pulling the plug on its investment in renewable energy because the technology doesn’t work. Will its flop persuade the feds to stop dumping billions down this rat hole?
Back in 2007 Google commanded star-spangled headlines with its new high-tech venture to go all in on the next big thing in technology: green renewable energy.
The tech giant was saluted as a good corporate citizen for its initiative to help combat global warming. In launching the project, company executives boasted they would prove that wind and solar power were not just good for the environment, but that solar energy could be produced profitably on a mass scale to replace dirty coal and even natural gas.
Its “green energy czar,” Bill Weihl, boasted: “It is even odds, more or less” that within “three years, we could have multiple megawatts of plants out there.”
Well, today those power plants don’t exist, and Weihl is gone from Google. CEO Larry Page has decided that the grandiose program called Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C) can’t make renewable energy cheaper than coal.
The fact that the price of natural gas has fallen by more than half because of cheap and abundant shale gas hasn’t helped the economics of wind and solar either.
But the most remarkable admission from Google is that the technology just doesn’t work — at least not now.
Two of the lead scientists on the RE<C project, Ross Koningstein and David Fork, both with Stanford, wrote the following devastating critique of the future of green energy in an article posted at IEEE Spectrum: “At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope, but that doesn’t mean the planet is doomed.”
Sorry, Sierra Club and Al Gore. You can’t pin this on “climate change deniers.” These scientists are trying to fight global warming.
The green movement has responded that Google’s problem was it wasn’t “ambitious enough,” that it should have poured more resources into the renewable energy fad. But unlike governments, private companies don’t have unlimited budgets. They have to turn a profit at some point.
Google’s setbacks in green energy were even more embarrassing when the company also had to admit it couldn’t even power its own data centers with the solar paneling it had installed. According to the company statement:
“The plain truth is that the electric grid, with its mix of renewable and fossil generation, is an extremely useful and important tool for a data center operator, and with current technologies, renewable energy alone is not sufficiently reliable to power a data center.”
Try lighting up a whole city.
But Washington still clings to the model that green energy is going to replace fossil-fuel production. President Obama continues to pump billions of dollars of loan guarantees, construction, grants, tax credits and mandates for renewable energy, which he calls the power source of the 21st century.
Well, maybe the second half of the 21st century. For now, we need coal and gas and nuclear power for reliable electric power production.
If Google can’t make renewable energy work, does anyone really think Washington can?