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Google hosts energy experts amid climate talks

Next week, the international community plans to discuss climate change and green energy, and U.S. energy experts kicked things off at Google's offices Monday

Google's Dan Reicher (at podium) was joined by Stanford's Lynn Orr (left), Nth Power's Tim Woodward, and Under Secretary of Energy Kristina Johnson (onscreen) at an event Monday on innovation in green energy. Tom Krazit/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--Ahead of a key international summit on climate change, Google hosted a panel discussion at its offices here Monday on the need for the U.S. to play a key role in the development of the next generation of energy.

Energy experts from Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and MIT joined Google's Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives and energy venture capitalist Tim Woodward of Nth Power in a wide-ranging discussion on a very timely topic: how to transition the world toward a more sustainable form of energy consumption and production. They were later joined via video conference by Kristina Johnson, undersecretary of energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.

The panelists sought not only to emphasize that such a move is essential, but one that presents enormous economic opportunity for countries that get ahead of the technology and innovation curve. "If we really do pull off changing the world's energy system, then a whole lot of money is going to be spent on putting the equipment in place to do that," said Lynn Orr, director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.

The discussion was held a week before the beginning of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Copenhagen with representatives from 192 countries. The conference is expected to produce some sort of global agreement on reducing carbon emissions and embracing alternative forms of energy, although the scope of any such agreement is very much up in the air.

Several panelists agreed with the assertion of Dan Kammen, director of the Renewable & Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley, that no matter what happens in Copenhagen, substantial progress has already been made this year with climate-change talks between the U.S. and China.

"China wants to be seen as a modern country," said Ernie Moniz, director of MIT's Energy Initiative. That means that not only do they want in on the gold rush toward green energy, they recognize that their citizens could be greatly affected by climate change.

Copenhagen aside, much of Google's interest in fostering debate in this area is designed around getting the federal government to play a larger role in helping technology research make it out of the labs and into the market, Reicher said. "We don't do a very good job in this country of moving technologies through this pipeline," he said.

Google is throwing its considerable resources behind green technologies such as wind, solar thermal, and advanced geothermal, Reicher said. In 2007, Google announced plans to generate 1 gigawatt of clean electricity through investments in companies that are researching and developing clean-energy technology.