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October 12th, 2010

Google invests in windpower “superhighway”

Published on October 12th, 2010 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

Last April I reported on a proposal to grid-lock offshore wind farms with underground transmission lines in order to keep wind power supply stable. By connecting wind farms that lie along the Eastern Seaboard, the overall output would stabilize despite vastly different weather conditions along the 1,500 miles of coastal ocean.

Back in April there was no funding source for the proposed multi-billion dollar project. But Google yesterday announced it will be investing $5 billion to build an undersea, wind energy transmission backbone along 350 miles of the Atlantic seaboard.

“This system will act as a superhighway for clean energy,” says Rick Needham, Google’s green-business operations director.

Google made the announcement on its official blog. According to the post, the Atlantic Wind Connection will lie 15-20 miles off shore and run from New Jersey to Virginia. Google says the cable will be able to carry 6,000 MW of wind power, and source 1.9 million households.

The AWC backbone will be built around offshore power hubs that will collect the power from multiple offshore wind farms and deliver it efficiently via sub-sea cables to the strongest, highest capacity parts of the land-based transmission system. This system will act as a superhighway for clean energy.

The AWC project is led by independent transmission company Trans-Elect and is financed by Google, Good Energies and Marubeni Corporation. We are investing 37.5% of the equity in this initial development stage, with the goal of obtaining all the necessary approvals to finance and begin constructing the line. Although the development stage requires only a small part of the total estimated project budget, it represents a critical stage for the project.

This isn’t Google’s first investment in wind energy technology. Back in May, the Internet search giant invested $39 million in two North Dakota wind farms.

Charlie Hodges, a wind industry analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says, “The North American wind industry hasn’t had any players involved with the motivation and financial heft to really move this market forward. Google could play that role.”

Whether Google can be successful in projects that – at least at first glance – are remote from its core business, like this wind project and its self-steering car project, remains to be seen. Needham shrugs off these concerns. He is quoted in Financial Times as saying, “We believe in investing in projects that make good business sense and further the development of renewable energy. . . We’re willing to take calculated risks on early stage ideas and projects that can have dramatic impacts while offering attractive returns.”

 


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