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Daily Debrief: Silicon Valley's clean-energy infatuationAlternative energy, from solar to geothermal, is suddenly one of the hot buzzwords in Silicon Valley, where it's attracting lots of interest--and money. To find out why, tune in as Charles Cooper speaks with reporter Martin LaMonica on the CNET News Daily...
[ Music ] ^M00:00:03 >> 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 more. >> 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 watching. ^M00:05:28 [ Music ]