Could a Big Geothermal Energy Play be Next for Google.org?

By Jeremy Jacquot
May 20, 2008

Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, has taken a number of stakes in solar
and wind startups over the past year, most recently joining a $115 million
investment in solar thermal firm BrightSource Energy. It now seems to be
focusing its attention on the bustling geothermal energy sector, with Google
co-founder Sergey Brin recently expressing a strong interest in Ormat, a
geothermal startup headquartered in Reno, Nevada.

During an interview with the Israeli newspaper, The Marker, Brin confirmed that
his company was in discussions with Ormat to collaborate on several clean energy
projects, calling the startup a “great company” and praising it for its
potential to turn geothermal energy “into a big business.” Though he wouldn’t
say whether Google was in talks to purchase any Israeli cleantech companies, he
did say that the conditions were good for his firm to buy companies in 2009. He
said there were a lot of interesting companies that worked in renewable energy
and electric cars — perhaps a nod to Shai Agassi’s Project Better Place.

According to Haaretz, senior executives at Google have already met with their
counterparts from Ormat twice, and Larry Page recently visited one of the
company’s plants in Steamboat Hills, Nevada. Ormat chairman Lucien Bronicki said
he and Google officials were pushing legislation in the U.S. advocating more R&D
for advanced geothermal technology. Ormat announced in February that it would
work with the DOE and several geothermal companies — GeothermEx and Pinnacle
Technologies — to test Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology at its 11
megawatt Desert Peak facility.

The DOE has committed $1.6 million to support the project, which could
eventually yield over 50 MW of power. The partnership will test hot fractured
rock (HFR) technology to attempt to increase the output of its geothermal wells.
Sydney, Australia-based Geodynamics, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, has
been on the forefront with this technology and is nearing the completion of a 50
MW demonstration plant to supply up to 75,000 people by 2012.

Ormat has several existing projects in Guatemala, Kenya and Nicaragua is
considered the world leader in geothermal energy.

In addition to making a series of high-profile investments in eSolar,
BrightSource and Makani Power as part of its RE donated over $1 million in grants to support plug-in vehicle adoption. The
foundation’s RechargeIT initiative recently gave $200,000 to CalCars.org. Page
said Google.org’s goal is to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity
from wind, geothermal and solar thermal sources cheaper than coal, an objective
he and Brin are optimistic will be met in years, rather than decades.


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