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Google closing in on cheap renewable energy

"Google closing in on cheap renewable energy(By Peter Henderson via Reuters)MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif - Google Inc is closing in on its goal of producing
renewable energy at a price cheaper than coal, the company's so-called
green energy czar, the engineer in charge of the project, said on Tuesday.But the United States needs to raise government-backed research
significantly and take much bigger risks if it wants to make alternative
energy mainstream, executive Bill Weihl told Reuters in an interview.Google, known for its Internet search engine, in late 2007 said it would
invest in companies and do research of its own to produce affordable
renewable energy -- at a price less than burning coal -- within a few years.The often-quirky company cast the move as a philanthropic effort to address
climate change, but the work is done by a unit of the for-profit
corporation, Google.org, and Google investors will profit from any
breakthroughs.The story of its pursuit of cheap, clean energy became an overnight
phenomenon, and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt conferred with U.S. President
Barack Obama on economic revival and green jobs.Weihl said the odds of success had gone up in the last year or so from a
long shot to a real possibility of demonstrating working technology in a
few years' time.""It is even odds, more or less,"" he said. ""In three years, we could have
multiple megawatts of plants out there.""The company has made investments in advanced geothermal and wind, but
engineers inside Google are focused mostly on solar thermal, in which the
sun's energy is used to heat up a substance that produces steam to turn a
turbine. Mirrors focus the sun's rays on the heated substance.By contrast, photovoltaic solar cells, the most commonly known form of
solar power, turn the sun's rays directly into electricity.""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 -- make those much, much cheaper. And I think we've made some really
interesting progress in the last six to nine months,"" he said.Google's investment has been modest, so far. The company has put less than
$50 million into clean energy start-ups, while the efforts of Weihl's group
are probably about $10 million or $20 million. Deploying technology on a
large scale, however, would not be cheap, he said.If the test project is successful, ""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,"" said Weihl.Still, the United States is not making enough of the start-up, risky
investments it needs, he argued.""As a society we need much more, and it needs to be sustained,"" Weihl said,
calling recent funding in the U.S. economic stimulus bill a good start.Coal is plentiful and cheap in the United States and China, making it a
crucial source of both power and the carbon dioxide that produces global
warming. So producing carbon-free energy for less than the price of coal is
seen as a yardstick for the renewable energy industry's success.Part of the process will be hitting dead ends, he added. Years from now,
investors should be telling themselves that, in retrospect, some of the
efforts were stupid.""If we are not saying that about some things, then we are not taking the
risks we need to take to actually find the breakthrough innovations we
need,"" said Weihl.For the very latest renewable energy jobs from around the world please
click here"