Sunday, 11 February 2007


Google Enters the Energy Business

I read on the Google blog that they plan to begin installation of 1.6 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels (PV panels) at their Head Office in Mountain View, California. They reckon it will be ‘the largest solar installation on any corporate campus in the U.S., and think it’s one of the largest on any corporate site in the world’. But something puzzled me – do they have enough room for all those panels?
Apparently ‘The panels will cover the roofs of the four main buildings of the Googleplex, and also those of two additional buildings across the street. There will also be a portion of this installation on new solar panel support structures in a few parking lots. The amount of electricity that will be generated is equivalent to powering about 2,000 UK or 1,000 average California homes. 'We’ll use that electricity to power several of our Mountain View office facilities, offsetting approximately 30% of our peak electricity consumption at those buildings.’

You can see how much roof space they have available in this photograph I came across (from Google Earth). So I looked into how much space you’d need to generate 1.6 megawatts from solar PV panels. According to one set of calculations I found on a mail order PV panel site ‘Solar Solar’, Google are going to need 919 PV modules generating 185 watts each. This will cover 13,250 square feet or one third of an acre. The campus covers 22 acres, so it would seem that giving up 1.36% of that space in roofing and parking isn’t such a big deal.
For you or I the cost of 919 PV panels would be anything from £0.5 million to £5 million. For some reason prices in the UK are at the higher end. Luckily for Google, the California Energy Commission has a very good rebate system for homes and businesses, particularly if Google use a ‘Grid tie’ system – putting electricity into the grid during the day when the sun’s out (so the meter goes backwards) and drawing it back at night on an off peak or reduced rate. So it seems Google may now technically be entering the energy market. Googlejuice! Googlegreen!
I dare say it won’t be too long before we can see something demonstrating how many greenhouse emissions have been saved by Google’s solar move - like this one at the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Institute.

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