Google Energy Open to Interpretation

Google isn’t on the cusp of entering the electricity business, but in forming Google Energy, a Delaware-based subsidiary, and requesting regulatory permission to buy and sell electricity on the wholesale market, the search giant has signaled more than a hobbyist’s interest in the energy industry.

The official story from Google headquarters is that Google Energy has sought regulatory approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency with oversight over the power grid, because of the parent company’s desire to have flexibility in pursuing its corporate goal of carbon neutrality.

Quoted by Martin LaMonica of CNET News’ Green Tech, Google spokesperson Niki Fenwick explained:

“Right now, we can’t buy affordable, utility-scale, renewable energy in our markets. We want to buy the highest quality, most affordable renewable energy wherever we can and use the green credits.”

I don’t doubt this is Google’s near-term objective. In the long run, well, anything is possible, even Google as an energy purveyor.

Google retains a longstanding interest in energy-efficient computing, particularly in its immense data centers, where savings from reduced energy consumption have the potential to deliver favorable results to the bottom line. With a 1.6-megawatt solar installation at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Google already produces energy to support its operations. Clearly, as its application to FERC attests, it would like to do more, on its own and through the purchase of low-cost, utility-grade electricity on the open market.

In this context, Google’s corporate goal is carbon neutrality. If it attains that objective, though, would Google consider something more ambitious, taking it into the realm of serving the energy requirements of others?

At this point, Google says it doesn’t have “concrete plans” for its energy subsidiary, but that it wants “the ability to buy and sell electricity in case it becomes part of our portfolio.”

That could happen, as Katie Fehrenbacher writes at earth2tech. She cites a New York Times interview with Bill Weihl, Google’s energy guru (yes, that’s what he’s called), who admits to ambiguity about what the future holds for his employer.

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