Search engine giant Google this week announced a shutdown of its multi-million dollar Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE<C) program, ending the company’s much-vaunted foray into lowering the cost of solar thermal technology.
In a a blog post entitled "More Spring Cleaning Out Of Season," Senior Vice President Urs Hölzle wrote that although Google remained committed to energy efficiency and would publish results of all the company’s finding so far, it must "close its efforts" and leave the work to other institutions that were better placed to continue the work of researching improvements to solar power technology.
Since 2007 Google has invested heavily in several concentrated solar power (CSP) projects and residential solar energy systems, including $168 million to Brightsources Energy’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS, the world’s largest CSP tower project.
According to the company, RE<C engineers made several improvements to heliostat technology – mirrors used to focus sunlight onto solar collectors in CSP systems – and reduced overall costs associated with water consumption and efficiency.
But as Energy Matters has reported in the past, and an explanation from Google about the shutdown concedes, with the price of solar panels at record lows, solar thermal technology is becoming an unpopular investment choice for large-scale installations.
"We’re excited that some technologies are so quickly approaching cost competitiveness with traditional forms of energy in parts of the US and the world. Power tower technology has come a long way, too. But the installed cost of solar photovoltaic technology has declined dramatically over the past few years, making solar photovoltaic technology a compelling choice for consumers," read part of the statement.
Google was great PR for solar thermal technology, but it will survive losing the company’s support.
The company knows the value of a good investment, and says it isn’t out if the clean power business; intending to spend $850 million on renewable energy projects in the future.