RE < C ? Not without a carbon tax or cap and trade system.
Google’s decision to stop trying to make clean electricity less expensive than power from traditional “dirty” coal-fired power plants was destined to come up short. Congress’ unwillingness in 2009 to create a carbon cap and trade system made sure of that.
At least Google didn’t belabor the push too long. Coming after its efforts earlier this year to stop helping homeowners monitor and better manage their energy consumption, Google isn’t going to be the energy miracle worker many hoped it would be.
Together, these moves point to a reality that green advocates and allies are having an increasingly difficult time overcoming: entrenched corporate interests continue to frame today’s over-arching energy policy debates and, it appears. the 2012 U.S. presidential election. While the anti-carbon push is a centerpiece in certain some corporate sustainability movements, progress to clean up air, water and our surrounding environments and improve U.S. energy security will be an ever tougher slog as long as the economy struggles to recover.
Google began making investments and doing research into technology to drive down the price of renewable energy in 2007, with a particular focus on solar power. Google pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help engineers and scientists figure out a way to generate 1 gigawatt of clean electricity and make it cheaper than coal.
In 2008, Google CEO Eric Schmidt presented an energy plan--complete with explicit math calculations ( peppered with dubious assumptions) –to back up an idea for how the U.S. could eventually get 100 percent of its electric power generation from renewable sources, cut emissions by half, create more jobs, and decrease overall energy costs.
The energy team at Google crunched the numbers to see how it could greatly reduce fossil fuel use by 2030. Their analysis suggested, however naively, a potential path to weaning the U.S. off of coal and oil for electricity generation by 2030 (with some remaining use of natural gas as well as nuclear), and cutting oil use for cars by 40%. A big chunk of that portfolio was supposed to come from energy savings through increased efficiency and conservation, essentially holding the total energy used steady at around 4.4 Terawatts over that period.
In 2009, the company’s so-called Green Energy Czar, Bill Weihl, told Reuters that he expected to demonstrate within a few years working technology that could produce renewable energy at a cheaper price than coal.
“It is even odds, more or less,” Weihl said at the time. “In three years, we could have multiple megawatts of plants out there.”
A Google spokesman said that Weihl had left Google earlier this month.