Google Leads the Way, Again
Last week Google announced that the company, and its philanthropic subsidiary, Google.org, would explore research and develop renewable energy. The goal is to ultimately produce one gigawatt of renewable energy and do so more cheaply that coal-generated electricity, which of course creates vast amounts of CO2. I was thrilled to read the news reports of this announcement.
As someone who thinks about the future, converting global society to alternative and renewable types of energy and away from fossil fuels is perhaps the top challenge humanity faces. The way this will get done is through creativity, innovation, technological breakthroughs and non-attachment to existing status quos. Sounds like something that Google is well prepared to do. (Regular readers know that I have admired Google in the past; click on â€˜Googleâ€™ in the archives at right).
Of course the traditional reaction to this announcement, mostly from those supposedly insightful â€œWall Street Analystsâ€ was to suggest the company was risking corporate focus on itsâ€™ core businesses. Nonsense! It was these types of conventional pundits that, a century ago suggested that the railroad companies were in the railroad and not transportation businesses. Flying people in airplanes, nah, you guys are in the train business. Using all your right of way real estate for development? Nah, stick to the train business.
As readers of this column know, I have often suggested that the renewable energy marketplace presents the greatest wealth creation opportunity in humanityâ€™s history. Great fortunes are about to be made. Think of the wealth that John D. Rockefeller created that has existed for generations. When he started out the user base for oil was in the hundreds of thousands. The user base for alternative energy right now is in the billions of people. The wealth created around alternative energy in the next 20-30 years will equal and probably dwarf the wealth created around computers. It is the hugest financial opportunity in the world today.
Google is a company populated by thousands of very smart people, many of them engineers, all of whom work in a culture that values innovation and new ideas. What better place to work on the urgent problem of renewable energy. We cannot leave this issue with the traditional power and drilling companies because they are stuck in their own paradigms. It is outside the box thinkers that will come up with the radical, transformative ideas. Who would have thought that the bicycle repair shop owned by the Wright brothers would be the place where manned flight would be birthed?
The companies and individuals that develop the breakthroughs that save us from our deathly addiction to fossil fuels will be heroes. In addition, they will be wealthy. Why would any company that has the resources and also the brainpower not want to give it a try?
In speeches I give, I suggest that, in the last two decades, Western science has proven the validity of Eastern religion which is that everything is energy. If everything is energy, why linger in this small, non-renewable part of energy called fossil fuels? It is clear the energy sources we will be using in the decades ahead: terrestrial solar, space solar power, wind, wave, biomass, nuclear, and ultimately perhaps cold fusion. What needs to be developed are the power conversion, storage and transmission technologies that will harness all these sources of power. That will ultimately drive down the costs relative to fossil fuels.
The equation that Google is using is to create renewable energy that costs less than coal. That will be easier to achieve than most pundits suggest. In the 1860s, when oil was first discovered it was, in 2006 dollars, as expensive as it is today. It was much more expensive as an energy source than wood or coal. The price rapidly dropped in the following decades because of scale of production and delivery which then created market scale, which then drove down the costs even further. So when people talk about the relative expensive costs of wind and solar energy, they need to be told that oil was much more expensive than the energy sources that were used at that time. Innovation, new technologies and market scale is the path. Google seems to have shown they can do these very well.
Wouldnâ€™t it be funny, if in 2015, the comment about Google was â€œRemember when search was their largest business?â€