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Google Campus to Get Solar Power As Alternative Fuels Gain Interest

by: Kevin J. Delaney and Jim Carlton    17 October 2006

Google Inc. plans to install a massive solar-power system at its headquarters, committing to one of the largest corporate solar installations in the country at a time when technology companies' support for alternative energy is on the rise.

The search company says the system, which is expected to be operational in early 2007, will supply about 30% of the peak energy needs of six buildings in and around its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. The system is being installed at an undisclosed price by Energy Innovations Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., which says such solar installations typically pay for themselves in power-cost savings in five to 10 years and last about 25 years.

"Thirty percent of our peak power in a short period of time will essentially be free," said David Radcliffe, vice president of real estate at Google. Mr. Radcliffe said Google was motivated primarily by environmental concerns, and was considering installing solar systems on its facilities elsewhere. Google's solar installation will use 9,212 solar panels and have a capacity of 1.6 megawatts, or enough electricity to supply about 1,000 average California homes.

Google is a major consumer of energy and in recent years has been scouring the country for large supplies of cheap power to run the massive computer data centers that host its online services and use many times the electricity of its headquarters. Google also has adopted a series of environmentally friendly policies, including giving $5,000 to any employee who buys a hybrid car, using organic ingredients in its cafeterias, and buying office furnishings made of recycled materials.

The Google announcement comes amid heightened Silicon Valley interest in pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels. Yesterday in San Jose, Calif., about 200 executives met at the first "CEO Summit on Alternative Energy," on the campus of chip-equipment maker Novellus Systems Inc. Novellus officials said they organized the event to help apply more corporate pressure to wean the U.S. off foreign oil supplies.

With so much oil sitting in politically unstable countries, "we are extremely vulnerable to a supply disruption and it could happen any day," said Sasson Somekh, president of Novellus. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California also told the executives their help was needed to help prod Congress into taking a more aggressive stance on addressing global warming. Holding up a fuel cell developed by Silicon Valley start-up Bloom Energy, the Democratic senator said, "This is the future. And this is what we ought to be supporting big time."

Afterward, about 85 CEOs and others signed a pledge to promote clean energy. Some have already taken steps, including adopting more solar energy. Besides Google, other Silicon Valley facilities that have agreed to use more solar panels include the campuses of Microsoft Corp. and Cypress Semiconductor Inc.