Google hints at an accelerated role for energy in its portfolio

Source: David Ferris, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2015

Google — or rather, its newly created parent company known as Alphabet — is making energy a priority among its smorgasbord of ventures.

On a quarterly earnings call held Thursday, Alphabet’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, said that the division known as “Access and Energy” is a foremost priority for growth among the company’s risky endeavors that are apart from Google’s core business of online search and advertising.

It’s a little hard to know what “Access and Energy” actually means. The parent-company structure, announced three months ago, hasn’t yet delineated what its business lines are.

Porat said the Access and Energy division doesn’t include Nest, which is its own division. Nest is Google’s arm that is muscling into the market for connected-home products. Its flagship smart thermostat is offered through many utility energy-efficiency programs.

What the division does include is Google Fiber, a project to bring super-high-speed Internet to various U.S. cities. The “Access” portion may include other risky plays, such as the fiber-optic network that Alphabet wants to lay in Africa and the low-orbit satellites it plans to launch in order to offer universal Internet access.

Alphabet’s energy-generation technology — a kite-energy company called Makani, purchased by Google in 2013 — remains part of Google X, according to a Google spokesman. Google X houses the company’s most speculative projects, including self-driving cars and delivery drones.

Google is a sophisticated player in electricity markets and has funded over $2 billion in wind and solar energy.

The company has invested $722 million on wind farms in North Dakota, Oregon, California, Texas and Oklahoma, and $674 million in utility-scale solar projects in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. It has also committed to rooftop solar, contributing $580 million to portfolios of rooftop projects with SolarCity and $100 million with SunPower.

The old Google says it has signed six large-scale power purchase agreements, four of which are in the United States, and gets 35 percent of its total power from renewable sources.