San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Google Tuesday said that it will spend "tens of millions" to research clean-energy alternatives to coal-fired power plants and "hundreds of millions" to bring projects to market.

The goal is to create clean power that Google can use as well as to accelerate the pace at which clean-energy technologies are developing.

"Our goal is to build one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal," Google co-founder Larry Page wrote in a Web post. "Within years, not decades." One gigawatt is enough to power a city the size of San Francisco.

Venture capital money has been pouring into alternative-energy companies in recent years, and Google's investment is sure to heighten the anticipation of future developments.

North American and European venture capitalists invested $1.9 billion in clean-tech companies in the first half of 2007, a 10 percent increase from the first half 2006, according to the Cleantech Network.

"Usual investment criteria may not deliver the super low-cost, clean, renewable energy soon enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change," said Larry Brilliant, executive director of, the company's in-house philanthropy.

Coal provides 40 percent of the world's electricity now, and contributes greatly to greenhouse-gas emissions. Google's goal, the company said, is to develop cleaner energy sources that are as affordable as coal.

Page, Google's president of products, called for recruits.

"We need creative and motivated entrepreneurs and technologists with expertise in a broad range of areas, including materials science, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, land acquisition and management, power transmission and substations, construction and regulatory issues," he wrote.

The company said its fund would go toward bringing more solar-thermal, wind and geothermal power to market more quickly.

Google identified two companies it already has tabbed to do some research. eSolar of Pasadena, Calif., is developing utility-scale solar-thermal power plants, while Makani Power of Alameda, Calif., is developing high-altitude wind power projects.

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