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Solar and Renewables Strong and Growing Stronger, and Google Only Proves It

Tuesday, November 29th 2011 2:28 PM
By GetSolar Staff.
Solar and Renewables Strong and Growing Stronger, and Google Only Proves It The clean energy sector received a bit of a shock on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving when the online search giant and longtime advocate of renewable energy Google announced plans to end its bold Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal program.

The announcement came as part of an assortment of other scrapped projects, from a Wikipedia-like online encyclopedia to an online bookmark tool, all of which were seen as too expensive and distracting from the company's core interests.

But the end of the so-called RE<C caused a stir within the media, seen by some as a poor sign for the solar sector, which has already seen hundreds of millions in investment from Google. RE<C was imagined as a way to spur research enough to bring solar energy below the cost of coal and made substantial strides in the devlopment of the solar thermal technology known as solar power towers. Yet even this technology will not be integrated into the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert, which received $168 million from Google, according to The New York Times.

Nevertheless, the portrayal of Google's recent decision as a bad sign for solar power is misleading. Media outlets like The Telegraph and Forbes characterized the move as a withdrawal from the renewable energy field, when in fact the company has only increased its spending on renewables in recent months. In June the company put nearly $300 million into funding for a solar leasing program for residential solar installations. All told the company's investments cover more than $850 million, and it only intends to push further into the field as it continues to find new ways to power its growing data centers.

Google is hardly alone in these kinds of investments. GigaOm reports that Facebook plans to purchase a rooftop solar installation to power and heat its main campus in Menlo Park, California, and similar investments have been made recently by other major online companies like eBay.

Indeed, the market for renewable energy only appears to be improving, despite the ongoing economic uncertainty caused first by natural disasters and the later by a series of debt crises in the U.S. and Europe.

Over the past year, a new report produced by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found investment in renewable energy jumped substantially, reaching $187 billion worldwide for renewable power plants alone, according to Bloomberg. More importantly, the report noted that spending on clean energy eclipsed investment in traditional fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal for the first time in history, with only $157 billion spent on such power plants.

Bloomberg notes that the upcoming discussions about global environmental concerns in Durban, South Africa, are unlikely to produce any further action on concerted actions to reduce carbon emissions, but Climate Progress notes that the recent investments have come even without the approval of the Kyoto Protocol, which was designed to limit such emissions. New Energy Finance expects to see solar installations continue to grow, reaching 26.4 gigawatts in this year and 27.8 gigawatts next year.

That argument has been repeated elsewhere as well. The Financial Times reports that the steadily declining price of solar cells, while detrimental for many struggling solar manufacturers, looks likely to encourage further investment in solar installations in coming years, with industry group Solarbuzz expecting the global market to more than double by 2014. Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects renewable energy as a whole to double as well, reaching $395 billion in 2020.

Overall, the market for solar power and for all renewable energy seems positive even through a gloomy economic outlook, which could prove as much of a boon for homeowners looking to invest in solar as for the industry itself.

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