Why Google invests in clean energy

Last year, Google invested more than $915 million in clean energy projects–solar, wind and transmission.

That’s a lot of money, even for Google, which had $38 billion in revenues in 2011. The investments don’t appear to be core to the company’s mission of organizing information, and they have attracted criticism, as well as some careless reporting, implying that the Internet giant is exiting the alternative energy business.

Does Google have an energy policy? Does it need one?

To find out,  I recently went to see Rick Needham, Google’s director of green business operations, at the company’s fabled headquarters (well, fabled for a 13-year-old company, anyway) in Mountain View, CA.

I came away not merely persuaded that Google’s energy investments make sense, but thinking that other companies that consume lots of electricity and have a pile of cash on their balance sheets  — Apple, Microsoft and GE come to mind — should consider deploying some of their cash in the clean energy sector.

Clean-energy investing isn’t philanthropy for Google. It’s business. In fact, it’s a classic double-bottom line investment, one that is intended to deliver environmental as well as financial benefits.

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An Atlantic wind project: big, bold and risky

Building a low-carbon economy requires bold ideas and long-term thinking on a scale that matters.

Ideas like The Atlantic Wind Connection.

The Atlantic Wind Connection,  you may recall, is a company that has embarked on a multi-billion dollar, decade-long project to build an undersea transmission cable stretching about 350 miles from northern New Jersey to southern Virginia. (See my 2010 blogpost, Google’s Atlantic coast wind deal.)

It will bring down the cost of offshore wind projects, create a more reliable electricity grid along the east coast and create thousands of jobs. The Atlantic Ocean is well-suited for offshore winds because its relatively shallow waters extend for miles out to sea, so turbines can take advantage of stronger winds and they are barely visible from land.

“It’s a scalable platform that literally creates a superhighway for offshore wind,” said Michael Terrell, who leads energy policy at Google, a major investor in Atlantic Wind. [click to continue…]