Lights Out

Yesterday, in the annual Australian-born event gone global called Earth Hour, millions of people around the world turned off their lights for one hour to save electricity and demonstrate their commitment to fighting climate change. If you pointed your browser to Google, you may seen a black background that the accompanying link explained did not use less energy but was designed to raise awareness of Earth Hour and the climate change issue.

Google has been at the forefront of efforts to fight climate change and last week, I had a chance to learn more in a visit with leaders of the climate change team. The company and its founders became interested in clean energy a few years ago when, in search of renewable power for data centers, they discovered how difficult clean energy can be to find. Since then, the company has launched a series of initiatives such as its program, RE<C.

Last year, Google turned on the world's largest largest corporate solar PV array, capable of generating 1.6 megawatts of power or about one third of Google's needs. You can monitor the power production at the website: http://www.google.com/corporate/solarpanels/home

At its server farms and in the workplace, Google has also set goals of reducing wasted energy from about 50% for desktops and 33% for servers to under 10%. And Google's fabled employee generosity includes green components. For example, Google will pay $5,000 toward the purchase of a hybrid which approximates the up front differential in cost between many hybrids and their conventional equivalents.

Google is not alone among Silicon Valley companies in pursuing clean technology. At a Bay Area listening session for the Green Project last week hosted by NPI's Pete Leyden, entrepreneurs and VCs told us about transformative potential solutions to climate change. They stressed, however, the need for stable policy to reinforce investment.

At a listening session for the Green Project in Washington, NDN members from large and small companies agreed that the issue has reached the forefront of the national agenda. Many companies see good business in energy efficiency. Dell, for example, is developing virtual servers that use less energy, Proctor and Gamble is marketing more concentrated detergent to reduce shipping costs and emissions and UPS has begun introducing hybrid trucks. But they also stressed to me the importance of thoughtful, stable policy to drive the process.

Despite enthusiasm for supportive policy, the clean tech movement has suffered recent setbacks. Californians defeated Proposition 87 which would have shifted incentives from oil production to clean technology and Congress has, amazingly, not renewed the solar tax credit due to expire this year. Due to long lead times for installations, many companies have had to kill or place on hold enterprise-sized solar power projects.

As if to highlight the need for action, last week an ice chunk the size of Connecticut broke off from the ice shelf in Antartica. While this massive piece of ice is expected to refreeze-rather than float off into the ocean as an iceberg-it shows how pressing the case for action has become and how policy must move faster if we are to meet the climate change challenge.