Google has released a White Paper titled “Expanding Renewable Energy Options For Companies Through Utility-Offered “Renewable Energy Tariffs”. Thanks to this blog post by North American Windpower and this tweet by Chris Young for the link.
Google has invested over $1 billion in renewable energy projects. They have two basic policy guidelines. From the White Paper:
• First, our efforts must result in “additional” renewable power generation. We’re not interested in reshuffling the output of existing projects, and where possible, we wan to undertake efforts near our data centers and operations.
• Second, we want our activities to be scalable and have the highest possible impact on the industry. When possible, our efforts should directly address problems that limit the growth of renewable energy.
As a consequence, their approach until now was either building and owning the capacity themselves, as with the 1.7 MW solar PV at Google headquarters, or buy the electricity directly from a renewable project owned by someone else, and selling excess capacity back into the grid.
Now they propose “renewable energy tariffs”.
That is not, as one might misunderstand, a feed-in tariff.
Instead, it is something the German utility Lichtblick has done for 15 years. They want an utility to deliver renewable energy (at a higher price than dirty energy). They want someone else to worry about all the problems associated with selling clean energy and concentrate on developing new search engines. That makes sense.
It made sense in Germany 15 years ago when Lichtblick was founded, an utility that sells only renewable electricity. It made sense in Germany 5 years ago when the German Parliament decided to buy their electricity from Lichtblick, going all renewable.
Of course there is a market for clean electricity. Some American utility should start serving it.
Google proposes to start this market by selling to large industrial customers. But there is really no reason why household customers should be excluded from buying clean energy. Lichtblick has over 600,000 customers now, and of course most of them are private citizens.
And while I am at it, Google might want to locate a couple of data centers in the Sahara and Gobi deserts. That would be rather compatible with their principle 2 mentioned above. Having this large source of electricity demand would help getting desert projects off the ground as long as the World Wide Grid is still not available.