Google and solar panel development and distribution company SolarCity, believe that people’s energy choice “will help to play a major role in our economy and our environment.”
The problem with large-scale residential solar projects today is the steep initial cost associated with purchasing and installing solar panels in the home, which can run into tens of thousands of dollars. SolarCity, chaired by Tesla’s Elon Musk, replaces this cost with a leasing option that comes out to less than the monthly electricity bill. Consumers gain the immediate benefits of having solar panels, but pay their cost out over time by leasing them. As the SolarCity website says, it’s an opportunity to “turn sunshine into savings.”
SolarCity says that the Google investment will enable them to install solar panels into 7,000 to 9,000 homes—about 10 percent of all solar installations in 2012. Many of these homes will belong to Google employees. Terms of the investment stipulate that they will get a discount installing SolarCity solar panels. The fund will also be used to purchase installation and other equipment and to ensure that the solar panel installation project expands its reach. The company currently operates in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
SolarCity CEO says its “No. 1 constraint to growth has been project finance.” Google’s investment removes that constraint. It’s a serious amount of money, too.
Rick Needham, Director of Google’s Green Business Operations, calls this the “largest investment to date in renewable energy projects.” Previously, its biggest solar energy investment was $168 million in the BrightSource Ivanpah solar power tower project.
And solar is not the only form of renewable energy that Google has been throwing money at. Some $100 million was invested in the Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in northern Oregon. When completed in 2012, it will be the world’s largest wind farm, producing 845 megawatts of energy. Another$55 million was invested in California’s own Alta Wind Farm, which will dwarf even the Oregon facility by producing a staggering 1,550 megawatts of power, increasing California’s wind power generation by 30 percent.
Doing some quick calculations, Needham says that Google’s total investment in clean, alternative sources of energy now totals $680 million.