Google may have a bad track record on privacy practices, but whenit comes to green, the internet giant is clean, racking up over $850 million ininvestments to develop and deploy clean energy and earning the top spot onGreenpeace's list of IT giants who are using and advocating for clean energy.
In February, Greenpeaceranked Google the best on its "Cool IT Leaderboard", although it onlyscored 53 out of 100 points on the ranking system, still putting it ahead ofCisco, with 49 points. But it was a reluctant gift from Greenpeace, which hasbeen hounding the IT giant for some time over its long overdue moves to shiftto green and to use its influence and outreach to advocate for renewableenergy.
Google may have gottenoff to a slow green start, but in the long term, the IT giant should benefitfrom the move. It is now sourcing more than 20% of its global energy use fromgreen sources such as solar and wind. As a major consumer of energy, reducingconsumption will help its profit margins and its clean energy efforts shouldboost its public image at a time when Google is mired in litigation overprivacy practices.
And Google's influenceshould not be underestimated, which is something Greenpeace understands well.Not only is Google going green, it's also dabbling in policy initiatives,offering up its own clean energy proposals for government consideration (suchas a plan to remove US dependency on fossil fuels entirely within 22 years).
So far, Google has invested $10 million in two solar companies, eSolar andBrightsource, and has created a $280 millionfund with SolarCity in California to install solar panels in 9,000 homes on alease option. The IT giant has invested another $15 million in wind energy, and$10 million in enhanced geothermal systems.
Most significantly, Google Ventureshas launched a $100 million venture capital fund for innovative cleantechnology start-ups. Beyond that, the IT giant is seeking to foray into theutility sector by applying for a license to sell bulk electricity. Smart gridsand plug-in cars are also on its list of green projects, as are a number ofriskier ventures, including work on a heliostat - a mirrored device thatdirects the sun's rays to create thermal energy - and high-altitude flying windturbines.
While Google and other IT giants such as Cisco, Ericsson andDell top Greenpeace's clean energy use and advocacy list, the environmentalgroups says that there is still an insufficient amount of movement in terms ofaddressing pollution. "Google tops the table because it's putting itsmoney where its mouth is by pumping investment into renewable energy,"Greenpeace International analyst Gary Cook told reporters upon the release ofthe "Cool IT Leaderboard." However, he said, while the IT industry isdriving significant energy demand with its data centers and globalinfrastructure, when it comes to addressing pollution, action has been slow.
Certainly, Google's original plans for energy have beenscaled down, and many of the more eclectic projects the company once envisionedhave been cancelled as results were not forthcoming as predicted. Still, thecompany is now investing more in clean energy than ever - in fact, ten timesmore than in 2010. This is a remarkable sum for an IT company when you compareit to renewable energy investments in energy giants such as BP, for instance,which invested around $1.6 billion in 2010. Google's focus has shifted from theeclectic to the practical, a shift most clearly seen in its drive to deploycommercial solar panels and wind turbines - investments that promise a return.
In the realm of clean energy and the US drive to reducedependency on foreign fuel imports, Google and other IT giants could wield asignificant amount of influence, both on the public and on policy. Now thatthat IT giants are largely on board with the clean energy initiative - thoughthe jury is still out on Apple and Oracle - this momentum should pick up pace.