Reuters has a report on Google's latest investment plans in solar energy, this time concentrating on mirrors for solar thermal power - Google plans new mirror for cheaper solar power. Speaking of Google, my search engine traffic has almost disappeared lately, with visitor numbers plummeting over the past few weeks from an (already diminished) 1000 people per day to something closer to 300 per day - it seems Peak Energy is now well past peak (not entirely unfairly given the absence of original content in recent months, but still a little disappointing).
Google Inc is disappointed with the lack of breakthrough investment ideas in the green technology sector but the company is working to develop its own new mirror technology that could reduce the cost of building solar thermal plants by a quarter or more.
"We've been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on," the company's green energy czar Bill Weihl told Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Google, known for its Internet search engine, in late 2007 said it would invest in companies and do research of its own to produce affordable renewable energy within a few years.
The company's engineers have been focused on solar thermal technology, in which the sun's energy is used to heat up a substance that produces steam to turn a turbine. Mirrors focus the sun's rays on the heated substance.
Weihl said Google is looking to cut the cost of making heliostats, the fields of mirrors that have to track the sun, by at least a factor of two, "ideally a factor of three or four."
"Typically what we're seeing is $2.50 to $4 a watt (for) capital cost," Weihl said. "So a 250 megawatt installation would be $600 million to a $1 billion. It's a lot of money."
That works out to 12 to 18 cents a kilowatt hour.
Google hopes to have a viable technology to show internally in a couple of months, Weihl said. It will need to do accelerated testing to show the impact of decades of wear on the new mirrors in desert conditions.
"We're not there yet," he said. "I'm very hopeful we will have mirrors that are cheaper than what companies in the space are using..."
Another technology that Google is working on is gas turbines that would run on solar power rather than natural gas, an idea that has the potential of further cutting the cost of electricity, Weihl said.
"In two to three years we could be demonstrating a significant scale pilot system that would generate a lot of power and would be clearly mass manufacturable at a cost that would give us a levelized cost of electricity that would be in the 5 cents or sub 5 cents a kilowatt hour range," Weihl said.
Google is invested in two solar thermal companies, eSolar and BrightSource, but is not working with these companies in developing the cheaper mirrors or turbines.