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>> Some people are wild about PDAs, for others its
social networks and so on. From my perspective the most
interesting technology developing these days is taking
place in the field of renewable energy, and so it is
this morning comes word of a $10 million investment by
Google in a technology for tapping underground heat. It
may be small from a purely dollars and cents
perspective, but it's another sign post along the road.
Welcome to CNET News Daily Debrief. I'm Charlie Cooper
[Assumed spelling], and with us on the phone from our
Cambridge, Mass, offices, Reporter Martin Lamonica
[Phonetic] who covers the field of alternative energy.
Martin, first can you explain for people watching how
does this technology work?
>> What Google has invested in is called enhanced
geothermal systems. And the way it works is you drill a
hole into -- into rock, several layers of rock. And
we're talking a deep hole, like, a few miles down.
>> A very deep hole.
>> Very deep hole. You pump water down there and what
that does is it creates sort of an underground reservoir
of hot water. It cracks the stone there. You
recuperate that water with another hole and then you use
that heated water to make steam, which drives a turbine,
and then you make electricity.
>> And where is the technology now in terms of
commercial roll-out, how far along are we?
>> Well, you know, plain old geothermal has been around
for decades, really. With this enhanced geothermal
technology is -- is relatively untested. There is a
pilot project going on Australia as well as one in
France. So it's relatively immature in terms of --
terms of technology development.
>> And back to Google, this is not the first time that
they've invested in this field.
>> Well no. This is their first investment in
geothermal, but they have this initiative called Global
Energy Lesson [Inaudible], and they've invested in two
solar companies. Again, interestingly, it's sort of --
kind of the latest, next generation of solar thermal
technology, and they've also invested in a wind company.
So far they've invested about 30 million dollars.
>> And is -- my understanding is it's not just Google in
Silicone Valley that's interested in this field of
alternative energy in particular and geothermal
specifically. You had a couple of days ago almost $25
million investment from Coastal Ventures as well as
Climate Perkins in [Inaudible] which does something
similar. So this is -- this is again, the smart money
is heading in this field.
>> Well, I mean, certainly the VC, venture capitalists
are all over this. This is definitely one of the -- if
not the -- one of the fastest growing areas of venture
capital investment. But even the established, you know,
Silicone Valley tech companies are getting into it, and
differently than Google. Google is doing it through
their philanthropic arm, Google.org. But you know,
Intel spun out a company called Spectro Watch [Assumed
spelling]. They're going to make silicone solar cells.
This was just a month or so ago. IBM's got a whole
solar program. They're making, you know, solar cells
with new materials, they're trying to convert
[Inaudible] for cooling chips, for solar rays. So
certainly, you know, clean energy, clean tech, has been
the bug of a lot of people in the valley.
>> So just to take the devil's advocate version of this
debate here. Don't want to get too irrationally
exuberant, but what's the major critique of this
technology. What's the impediment that people most
often point to?
>> Well, with enhanced geothermal systems, it's
immature. So if you're a utility, you know, you're
[Inaudible] energy or something like that, you're going
be very, very wary of investing in a technology that
isn't reliable -- not yet anyway. You know natural gas
or coal power plants are going to work. You know how
much it's going to cost. Here that's not the case.
We're talking about pilot projects that are expensive
right now. So the name of the game in energy is always
cost. You know, the cost per Watt. And right now it's
too expensive, and it simply has more technical kinks
that need to be worked out. That's why Google is making
this announcement. They're also making a -- they
published a policy brief to call for more investment,
both from the government and also from private industry
in this technology, which they say can do quite a bit
>> Name of the game. Last question. What inning are we
in? First, fifth, seventh?
>> I think with enhanced geothermal systems we're in the
first inning. I mean, you know, there was an MIT study
that came up last year and the DOT followed up that
study. And both those studies agreed that enhanced
geothermal systems, pumping water into rock, could
account for -- could cover about 10% of our energy use.
Now right now it's, you know, less than 1%. So I'd say
we're really early in the game. Another note is that
these things take years to get going. It's not like a
new version of an application. We won't know whether
this stuff works for years.
>> Okay Martin, thanks a lot. On behalf of my colleague
Martin Lamonica, this is Charlie Cooper. Thanks for
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