Google ploughs on with investment in solar energy research

Google’s commitment to the green technology sector has been bolstered by news the company is working to develop its own new mirror technology that could reduce the cost of building solar thermal plants by at least 25 per cent.

“We’ve been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on,” the company’s green energy tsar Bill Weihl told Reuters’ Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Google, known for its Internet search engine, said in late 2007 it would invest in companies and do research of its own to produce affordable renewable energy within a few years.

The company’s engineers have been focused on solar thermal technology, in which the sun’s energy is used to heat up a substance that produces steam to turn a turbine. Mirrors are used to focus the sun’s rays on the heated substance.

Weihl said Google is looking to cut the cost of making heliostats, the fields of mirrors that have to track the sun, by at least half.
Google is hoping to have a viable technology to show internally before the end of 2009, Weihl said. But one key issue it has yet to demonstrate is the likely effects of decades of wear on the new mirrors in desert conditions.

Another technology that Google is working on is gas turbines which would run on solar power rather than natural gas, an idea that has potential to further cut the cost of electricity, Weihl said.

He added that the company hoped to have a pilot model built on a significant scale “in two to three years”.
Google has stakes in two solar thermal companies, eSolar and BrightSolar, but these companies are not involved in helping it develop the cheaper mirrors or turbines.

The company has pushed ahead in addressing climate change issues as a philanthropic effort through its arm.
But he is now pressing the US government to commit more funds to developing ideas at the laboratory stage, he said.

Steven Cox

Steven Cox spent many years as an offline journalist before joining Lakestar McCann. He has worked as a specialist correspondent for a market-leading transport magazine, a news journalist for major regional newspapers, a commercial features writer with the Manchester Evening News, and a freelance writer and sub-editor. He is now heavily involved in helping Lakestar McCann clients achieve wide coverage through keeping their news feeds updated, as well as in writing and updating on-site copy.

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