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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Air Date: Week of October 10, 2008

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Google has teamed up with General Electric to build a smart grid for plug in electric cars. (George W. Hatcher)

Google hopes to help wean the United States off oil and coal by 2030. In the process of eliminating our dependence on foreign oil, the company also plans to make a lot of money. Google's Director of the Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, Dan Reicher, explains their "do well by doing good" creed to host Bruce Gellerman.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: ItÂ’s Living on Earth, IÂ’m Bruce Gellerman.

Google, the online search engine, has always had lofty ambitions. Founded a decade ago, the company name was derived from the mathematical term googol, g-o-o-g-o-l, or ten to the 100th power. ThatÂ’s a number larger than all the elementary particles in the universe. Well, now the Web search company is again reaching for the stars. Google says the U.S. can be coal- and oil-free by 2030, and itÂ’s putting 45 million dollars where its mouth is. Dan Reicher is GoogleÂ’s Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives.

REICHER: Well, you know, at Google we really have brought together the opportunity to both do well and do good here. We really do believe that we and others can make money at this—really moving clean energy technology into the commercial sector. We’ll also be solving many of these energy and climate problems we have.

GELLERMAN: Okay, well, how do we do it?

REICHER: First, weÂ’ve got to keep the demand for electricity flat, instead of it growing twenty or twenty-five percent over the next twenty plus years. Secondly, we do need to replace coal-generated electricity with clean electricity from renewables. And third, we strongly feel weÂ’ve gotta increase the use of plug-in vehicles. Major car companies from Toyota to General Motors to others are actually coming out with plug-in vehicles. What we want to do at Google is make sure in fact, that the grid is ready for that.

GELLERMAN: What do you think is the toughest nut to crack?

REICHER: Well one of the really difficult challenges we have as a country is that as much as there’s excitement about renewable electricity—solar, wind, geothermal and the like—one of the big challenges we have is moving that electricity from where the sun shines or the wind blows to where people actually live. We do not have adequate power lines to move wind electricity from the Dakotas to Chicago or from the desert Southwest to Los Angeles or Las Vegas. And as a country we’ve gotta figure out a way to build more power lines if we’re really gonna take advantage of these clean, renewable sources of electricity.


Dan Reicher is Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives at Google.
(Courtesy of Google)

GELLERMAN: I’m reminded that back in the 1930 when we were having such a terrible time with the economy, we developed rural electrification. It seems like déjà vu all over again.

REICHER: Well, that’s a great example. You know the REA, the Rural Electrification Administration, in fact, brought power lines to people in rural areas. We built the interstate highway system and created lots of jobs and spurred our economy. We think rebuilding our electricity system—taking it from one that really dates from the ‘50s and ‘60s to one that really is twenty-first century has a lot of the same opportunities—a lot of job creation and at the same time, really being able to take advantage of these clean energy sources.

GELLERMAN: As a company, your primary function is to provide users with a search engine for accessing information on the Internet. Tens of millions, hundreds of millions of Americans use you. Are there plans to somehow tap into the online resources to further the 2030 goal?

REICHER: Absolutely. We think thereÂ’s all sorts of ways that we can both get information to people and also give them the ability to control their energy use, to monitor their energy use day to day. ItÂ’s a very primitive situation today where all you hear from your utility is this once-a-month paper electricity and gas bill. It gives you very little sense about what you can actually do to control that energy use. The ability to go online, interact with people, help them control their appliances and equipment in their own homes, better assess what their cars are doing at any given moment -- We think thereÂ’s big big opportunities there for Google and lots of other information technology companies.


Google has teamed up with General Electric to build a smart grid for plug in
electric cars. (George W. Hatcher)

GELLERMAN: So IÂ’d be able to go online and maybe lower the thermostat in my house, or maybe check my electric bill hour by hour, minute by minute?

REICHER: There’s all sorts of work going on by a number of companies to give you that ability and we’re very interested in that at Google, and think it’s got big promise—and stay tuned.

GELLERMAN: Boy, Google – first the Internet, now the world.

REICHER: Well, it’s exciting. And I did want to point out another very interesting technology—it’s called Enhanced Geothermal Systems or EGS. Traditional geothermal is where you drill a well down to a pocket of steam or hot water and you bring that up and make electricity. Well, it turns out if you drill literally anywhere on the earth, if you drill deep enough, you get to hot rock. If you can open up the crevices down there, fracture the rock, and put water down and bring it back up, you can make electricity in much, much greater quantities. So we’ve made a series of investments at Google in companies focused on this. And we’ve also gotten the word out to people all over the country and all over the world. You can see a Google Earth layer that shows the EGS resources in every one of the fifty states in the United States. We’re trying to use our information tools and our capital to really advance this very promising technology.

GELLERMAN: Boy, I can already hear the slogan: Drill, Google, Drill!

[LAUGH]

REICHER: Well our CEO did a speech a week ago and the title of it was “Where would Google drill?” You know, I’m really typically optimistic about what we can do as a country. If we can catch up at the national level with a strong push from Washington, I think we can make a good down payment on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and cutting our foreign oil dependence and frankly making some money in the process.

GELLERMAN: Well Dan Reicher, I want to thank you very much. A pleasure talking with you.

REICHER: Great talking with you, Bruce

GELLERMAN: Dan Reicher is Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives at Google.

 

Links

The Google 2030 challenge

 

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