Expect Google.org to make investments in the next couple of months in enhanced geothermal energy, says Dan Reicher, the Internet giant's director of climate change and energy initiatives.
Google's philanthropic arm is in talks with universities on funding basic research into tapping into the vast stores of energy underground, Reicher said at a two-day energy summit sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences. He said it also expects to finance companies that are working toward advances in this form of renewable energy.
A description of enhanced geothermal, graphics that show how it works, and a map of its potential can be found with this story in U.S. News.
Google announced its "renewable energy cheaper than coal" initiative late last year, but this is the clearest signal yet that the company is poised to add enhanced geothermal to its investment portfolio.
So far, Google's program has made $10 million investments in two companies that seek to produce renewable energy cheaper than coal: eSolar, a concentrating solar thermal power firm, and Makani Power, which seeks to develop ultra-high-altitude wind power. Reicher said tapping into wind power at 3,000 or even 10,000 feet up is "admittedly very high risk" but fits in well with Google's game plan on renewable energy investments.
"We don't have the constraints of venture capital firms, with the usual three-to-six-year exit strategy and need for return," Reicher says. "We're looking for higher-risk, higher-payoff investments." He also said Google.org is likely to invest in commercialization of cellulosic ethanol—another example of a promising technology that has a hard time getting out of the so-called Valley of Death, development of risky, first-of-a-kind plants.
Reicher also addressed why Google is engaged in the issue of renewable energy. As a large user of electricity, Google has aimed to purchase green resources and has often found them not available or prohibitively expensive.
"There's a great deal of optimism about renewable energy, great engagement of the public, and interest of the investment community," Reicher says. "There needs to be a fundamental change in the cost structure of renewables if we expect them to compete. And let's talk about the competitive landscape—first and foremost about coal. The aim has to be to make renewable energy competitive with coal and to do it in years, not decades."