Google crunches numbers on clean-energy policy

Search giant pressures policy makers with an analysis arguing that government and business can clean the U.S. energy supply while stimulating the economy.

In just over 20 years, the U.S. could wean itself from coal and oil for electricity generation and nearly halve its gasoline consumption, according to an analysis done by energy experts at Google.

The search giant's Google.org philanthropy on Thursday released updated numbers and policy recommendations on how the U.S. could dramatically change its energy consumption by 2030.

According to its Clean Energy by 2030 Web site:

Google's proposal will benefit the U.S. by increasing energy security, protecting the environment, creating new jobs, and helping to create the conditions for long-term prosperity. Some of the necessary funds will be public, but much of it will come from the private sector--a typical approach for infrastructure and high technology investments.

The immediate policy proposals posted Thursday from Google.org program manager Michael Terrell and Google policy counsel Harry Wingo are:

Google.org's projections for eliminating electricity generation from coal and oil by 2030. Click on image to enlarge. Google

• Change the renewable energy subsidy so it does not rely on tax credits, a policy that is less effective now because corporate profits are drying up.

• Fund existing programs to invest in smart grid technologies, which will allow consumers to monitor energy usage.

• A $3 billion appropriation to weatherize 1 million U.S. homes, which will cut energy bills by about 30 percent.

• Mandate that U.S. government agencies purchase energy from renewable sources, use energy-efficient building products, and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

At the core of Google.org's energy transformation proposal are mandates to increase efficiency of electrical appliances and vehicles; rapid increase in the use of wind, solar, and geothermal; and a transition to plug-in vehicles.

Pressure building for fast action?
It's the most recent call to Washington leaders for quick action on energy and the environment.

President-elect Barack Obama earlier this week reiterated his campaign pledges to invest heavily in clean-energy programs and make the U.S. a leader on climate change.

Sen. Barbara Boxer on Thursday said that a simplified climate change bill will be introduced next year. Meanwhile, the replacement of Rep. John Dingell by Henry Waxman at the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is interpreted as a move that can accelerate energy policy reform.

Google first introduced its 2030 energy road map in October of this year; CEO Eric Schmidt, an adviser to Obama, made speeches earlier this year, calling on the federal government to show more leadership on climate change by fostering clean-technology businesses.

A number of other high-profile individuals and groups, including former Vice President Al Gore and businessman T. Boone Pickens, have called for government-led "moonshot" programs in energy, recalling how the Apollo Program in the 1960s led to a flourishing of technology progress.

Obama advisers have indicated that clean energy will be one of the incoming administration's top priorities, tied to economic recovery. Whether the administration can successfully pass legislation, such as regulations on carbon emissions, remains to be seen, of course.

There is significant support for action on climate change and clean energy among voters and businesses. But any sort of bold policy proposals will face stiff resistance in Congress.

In the past two years, several attempts to pass carbon regulations, renew renewable energy tax credits, and increase fuel-efficiency standards have been defeated.

 

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