Via Google.org Blog:

The vast potential of energy efficiency

Thursday 8/06/2009 09:10:00 AM

(Cross-posted from the Public Policy Blog)

It’s no surprise that the cheapest and most available solution to the climate problem is simply to use energy more efficiently. But a recent study issued by McKinsey & Co. details just how compelling an opportunity we are missing. McKinsey predicts that an annual investment of roughly $50 billion over the next 10 years would cut energy demand by 23% and yield savings to the U.S. economy worth $1.2 trillion! The energy savings would be equal to taking the entire U.S. passenger fleet of cars and trucks off the road.

Such efficiency gains are possible only if we overcome some major hurdles. For instance, most people have no idea how much energy we use in our homes on a daily basis or which of our appliances or devices are consuming the most energy. That’s one of the reasons that we created Google PowerMeter, a software gadget that shows users detailed information on their home electricity consumption. Studies show that when people have access to this kind information they reduce their energy use by up to 15%. Greater savings are possible if people use the information to buy a more efficient refrigerator or air conditioner, insulate their home, or take advantage of off-peak electricity rates.

The McKinsey report acknowledges that energy efficiency alone won’t solve our energy and climate challenges. We must continue to put major resources into low-carbon sources of energy like renewable energy, and the federal economic stimulus, with its tens of billions of targeted dollars and incentives, is a good start. But the McKinsey findings are a wake up call. As we enact more comprehensive energy policies, energy efficiency — and giving people the information, tools and incentives to take advantage of it — should be front and center.

Posted by Michael Terrell, Program Manager, Google.org

Turning on the Solar Power Tower

Thursday 8/06/2009 01:23:00 PM

In 2007 Google.org launched our Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative and announced a $10 million investment in the early-stage clean power company eSolar, Inc. Yesterday in Southern California, eSolar flipped the switch on what is to be the first solar power tower facility in the U.S. that will enter full commercial operation.

Success here could signal the emergence of a clean energy technology by which we might — for the first time — economically harness the sun to produce large quantities of electricity. And we would be harnessing a massive and, for all practical purposes, inexhaustible energy supply.

In many respects eSolar has turned conventional thinking about solar power tower technology on its head in order to drastically reduce the capital and operating cost of solar thermal power plants. Instead of employing a small number of large and expensive specialty mirrors eSolar takes the opposite approach – incorporating thousands of small mirrors that can be made cheaply in massive quantities. And instead of having to reinforce large mirrors to stand up to high winds, eSolar’s small mirrors have a low profile, reducing material costs including steel and concrete for the mounting structures.

Of course this massive number of mirrors requires more sophisticated software so they accurately track the sun leading to high heat output and system efficiency. At Google we’re particularly intrigued with this aspect of the eSolar product — that is, how the performance of energy technology can be enhanced by information technology. Call it ET meets IT.

The eSolar team has taken a giant step toward cracking the code on solar power tower technology. I’m hopeful that just a few years from now we will see this facility – and many more like it – focusing the sun’s energy to produce a brighter future for our children and the planet they will inherit.

Posted by Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change & Energy Initaitives