Google is aiming to produce renewable energy cheaper than coal, both through its own research and by investing in outside companies, with the goal of having such a system operational within a few years.
"In, you know, three years, we could have multiple megawatts of plants out there," Bill Weihl, green energy czar for Google, said in an interview with Reuters. "We'll see whether we or us in combination with other people are prepared to fund much, much bigger facilities, or if we want to get a few more years' experience before we really start to scale it up."
Google has invested in advanced geothermal, wind and solar thermal; the latter involves concentrating solar energy via mirrors in order to power steam-turbines.
"We are looking at ways of cheaply getting to much higher temperatures and also making the heliostats, the fields of mirrors that have to track the sun, reflect the sun, keep it focused on the target we are trying to heat up," Weihl told Reuters. "I think we've made some really interesting progress in the last six to nine months."
Google has long attempted to position itself as a Green IT leader.
In May 2009, Google moved quickly to refute claims that its data centers and products were energy inefficient, posting data on its blog that showed it would take 3.1 million Google searches to equal the electricity consumed by the average U.S. household in one month.
"Our engineers crunched the numbers and found that an average query uses about 1 kJ of energy and emits about 0.2 grams of carbon dioxide," Urs Holzle, senior vice president of Operations at Google, wrote in a May 11 corporate blog posting.
It was the second time this year that Google reacted strongly to claims that it contributes mightily to the nation's overall carbon footprint; the first came after a Harvard University physicist announced in January 2009 that two Google searches on a computer can generate nearly the same amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) as boiling a kettle.
In addition, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has pushed a national energy plan that cuts greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by 2030. During a March 2009 environmental conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal, Schmidt suggested that such a plan would save $4.4 trillion over that period.
"What's really first at Google is about changing the world, in a positive way," Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray at the time. "Can we make a difference? In our case, we're huge energy users, so a relatively straightforward solution to our energy costs goes right to the bottom line."