Google Invests $280M to Solar-Power Homes, Offices

Google June 14 invested $280 million in a fund to power homes with the sun, courtesy of SolarCity, which provides panels for Intel, eBay and the government, among others.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) continued its clean energy investments June 14 by setting aside $280 million to power more homes with solar energy.

The company is creating a fund to help SolarCity, which outfits homes and offices with solar panels that harness heat from the sun to power buildings, install more solar panels in the U.S.

The funding is Google's biggest clean power infusion to date and pushes the company's clean energy spending to more than $680 million.

Rick Needham, Google's director of green business operations, said his colleague Michael Flaster has been using SolarCity panels to power his home since March.

Flaster expects to save $100 per month on his energy bills this year, and a whopping $16,000 over his 15-year lease, factoring in his lease payment and lower energy bills.

SolarCity, which has worked with seven different partners to finance $1.28 billion in solar projects, covers installation and maintenance of the system over the life of the lease. Customers may prepay, or pay nothing up-front after which they make monthly solar lease payments.

SolarCity powers homes and offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The company counts thousands of homeowners, more than 75 schools and universities, Intel, eBay, as well as government agencies such as the U.S. General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security among its customers.

As it does with so many of its product launches, Google is trying to eat its own dog food with this solar energy fund; the search-engine giant is partnering with SolarCity to offer the company's services to Google employees at a discount rate.

"We think 'distributed' renewable energy (generated and used right at home) is a smart way to use solar photovoltaic (PV) technology to improve our power system since it helps avoid or alleviate distribution constraints on the traditional electricity grid," Needham wrote in a blog post.

Google, a massive consumer of energy to power the thousands of computers that fuel its search and Web services, is a big believer in clean energy innovation and has been quite busy on the clean energy front.

The company gained the right to buy and sell power on regulated wholesale markets from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in February 2010, buying 100.8 megawatts of wind energy to power its new data center in Oklahoma in April.

Google in May invested $55 million into the Alta Wind Energy Center, which will be able to power 450,000 homes and boost California's wind power generation by 30 percent.

Google this year also invested $100 million in the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm, and put up $168 million for a solar energy power plant BrightSource Energy is building in California's Mojave Desert. GigaOm has a more detailed list of Google's power spending.