Google harnesses the sun

Posted by Laura Grant on January 21, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Aerial view of the GoogleplexIt’s pretty obvious that South Africa has great solar power potential, but we’ve been slow to take up this technology. It’s interesting to see what people are doing in other parts of the world, to get an idea of what’s possible. Google, for example, is making great strides down the solar road.

At the company’s campus (called the Googleplex) in Mountain View, California, about 197,000 square feet (more than 18,000 square metres) of rooftop and carport space have been fitted with solar photovoltaic panels – about 9,000 of them in all.

Close up of roof with solar panelsThe solar installation is designed to generate 1.6MW – enough to power “about 1,000 average California homes”, Google says on its website.
That electricity offsets about 30 percent of the company’s peak electricity consumption at the Googleplex.

But that’s not all this IT powerhouse is up to.

Google has an initiative called RechargeIT that aims to speed up the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The company has a demonstration fleet (Toyota Prius and Ford Escapes) that are charged using solar power generated at the Mountain View campus.

The RechargeIT initiative has also partnered with an electricity utility to look at how electricity might be transmitted back and forth between plug-in hybrids and the grid. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology “offers the potential to use plug-in hybrids as a battery storage to make better use of our energy and stabilise the grid”, says Google.

To see the plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and learn more about the V2G concept it’s worth watching the video.


Google is also on a mission to develop large-scale renewable energy that is cheaper than coal.

Explaining the idea behind the initiative, Google’s executive director Larry Brilliant told AFP: “We can’t win the battle to preserve Earth’s atmosphere unless the oil and the coal stay in the ground. We need to find a way to make renewable energy at such a low cost that it becomes the choice of everyone.”

The initiative’s aim is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity – enough to power a city the size of San Francisco – “in years, not decades”. The company has created a renewable energy R&D group and will be looking first at solar thermal, wind, and geothermal technologies. has reportedly already invested $10 million in eSolar, a California company that specialises in solar thermal power.

The company is also working with Makani Power, which is developing high-altitude wind energy extraction technologies aimed at harnessing the world’s most powerful wind resources.

It’s wonderful what you can do when your one of the richest companies in the world and one share is worth more than $600.


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