Google announced April 11 it was taking yet another step down the path of alternative energy with $168 million in equity financing for BrightSource Energy, Inc., a California renewable energy company.
That, reported Bloomberg News, coupled with a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy, are targeted toward the construction of what will be the world’s largest solar energy plant.
The Ivanpah project, which will provide 392 megawatts in southern California, consists of three separate plants, and is already under construction; that was begun by Bechtel Corp. in October. Mirrors known as heliostats are part of the BrightSource solar thermal system, and focus sunlight on boilers that are mounted on top of towers. The system generates temperatures of more than 1,000°F (538°C) to produce steam in the boilers; that is then piped to a power-generating turbine.
This isn’t Google’s first toe in the alternative energy stream; it’s invested more than $250 million in projects to produce renewable energy. Google.org, its investing unit, took part in a financing round with BrightSource worth $115 million that closed in 2008. Rick Needham, Google’s director of green business operations, said in a statement of this latest venture, “We’re helping to deploy the first commercial plant of a potentially transformative solar technology able to deliver clean energy at scale.” He continued, “Ivanpah will be the largest solar-power tower project in the world.”
The timing may be perfect. Last year was marked by the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, its full effects still unknown but its very occurrence giving pause to the thought of more deep drilling lest new crises occur. While natural gas from the Marcellus Shale has tempted investors, continuing reports about ground water contamination and other dangers of fracking (the method used to extract natural gas from shale wells) have brought calls for more caution.