Google's vision for a greener planet
October 6, 2008 While the Wall Street financial crisis has many on edge in regard to the short term future of the economy, Google has displayed some far-sighted corporate leadership in releasing its plan for how to reduce fossil fuel use by 2030. "Clean Energy 2030" is designed to stimulate debate on a range of energy consumption issues and includes proposals to slash vehicle oil consumption and CO2 emissions by 38% and reduce US reliance on fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88% through a significant boost to solar, wind and geothermal output. Importantly, the report also focusses on the "win-win" potential for this aggressive attack on climate change, citing a figure of $1.0 trillion net savings over the 22-year life of the plan.
In summarizing the objectives of the 2030 proposal, Google Climate and Energy Technology Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Jeffery Greenblatt writes:
"Right now we have a real opportunity to transform our economy from one running on fossil fuels to one largely based on clean energy. Technologies and know-how to accomplish this are either available today or are under development. We can build whole new industries and create millions of new jobs. We can cut energy costs, both at the gas pump and at home. We can improve our national security. And we can put a big dent in climate change. With strong leadership we could be moving forward on an aggressive but realistic time-line and an approach that offsets costs with real economic gains."
The highlights two key areas where a long-term national commitment is required to meet these objectives - renewable electricity and personal vehicles.
The vision for the renewable energy sector would see demand kept flat at the 2008 level whilst accounting for the predicted increase in demand of 25% and the additional requirements that will emerge as plug-in electric vehicles hit the roads in greater numbers. To replace coal electricity generation, which currently represents half of the electricity produced in the US, rapid growth is called for in the renewables sector with an estimated 380 gigawatts of wind, 250 GW of solar and 80 GW of geothermal power to be brought online. These changes would be in addition to maintaining some use of natural gas and nuclear power sources and would also require the implementation of nationwide standards, carbon pricing and long-term tax incentives as well as improvements to grid infrastructure.
The answer in relation to personal vehicles is, according to the report, to encourage the uptake of both hybrid and all-electric vehicle technology which has grown exponentially in recent years but is still yet to crack the mainstream. Google's proposal would see cars in this category reaching 90% of new car sales in 2030 (when they would make up 42% of the total US fleet). To achieve this the annual sales of hybrid or electric cars would need to reach 22 million units in 2030, up from an estimated 100,000 in 2010. A significant improvement in the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles (reaching 45 mpg by 2030), plus faster turnover of the national fleet (from 19 to 13 years) are also seen as a plank in attaining the overall goals of the report.
Encouragingly, these far-reaching changes need not have an adverse effect on the economy and could actually create jobs. By factoring in expected drops in the cost of producing energy from renewable energy sources as well as the savings to be made from winding-down coal powered facilities and switching to EVs, Google concludes that "undiscounted savings exceed costs by $994 billion over the 22 years of the scenario, or if carbon credits are included, $2,128 billion".
In analyzing the effects on employment Google points to several sources including the US Department of Energy which predict large scale job creation in relation to the development of renewable electricity generation. For example the DOE estimates that building 293 GW of wind power by 2030 will provide 476,000 jobs in the US. Although there are no firm numbers presented on how changes to the plug-in vehicle market would impact on employment, an increase in jobs in the vehicle manufacturing sector is still theexpected result.
And the environment? Google says the benefits of making these changes in the electricity and personal vehicles sectors would reduce overall US CO2 emissions by 48% in 2030 relative to the EIA baseline. Further improvements could also be made by pursuing similar programs in sectors like freight transportation, air-travel, building construction, forestry and agricultural management.