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Google's green efforts increasingly homegrown

A dearth of investment opportunities has pushed the company to develop its own solar-electricity technology, its green-energy chief explains.

Bill Weihl, Google's green-energy czar.

Failing to find many investment opportunities, Internet search giant Google has begun developing its own green technology and may soon have some breakthroughs.

That's according to Bill Weihl, Google's green-energy czar, who spoke at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit that began on Tuesday.

In November 2007, Google announced a plan to invest hundreds of millions in technology to find a renewable-energy source for electricity cheaper than coal. Since then, the company has admittedly invested "less than $50 million."

Google had intended to invest much more, but it has not been able to find many qualifying companies or projects, Weihl told Reuters.

Rather than wait for better ideas to come along, the company has been developing its own technology, including better mirrors for solar-thermal plants and solar-powered turbines for generating electricity.

Google engineers believe that they've found a way to cut the manufacturing costs of heliostats, the mirrors used in solar-thermal farms, by making the mirrors and the mounts from "unusual materials," Weihl told Reuters."Typically, what we're seeing is $2.50 to $4 a watt (for) capital cost. So a 250-megawatt installation would be $600 million to a $1 billion," he said. "It's a lot of money."

The solar turbines Google is developing are actually gas turbines that, instead of running on natural gas, are being modified to be powered with solar energy, Weihl told Reuters.

The projects have been conducted independently of eSolar and BrightSource, two of the green-tech companies Google has invested in since the November 2007 announcement.