It’s quite fitting that while COP21 is going on in the background, with leaders and governments talking about climate change, Google announces 842MW of renewable energy purchased. While world leaders plan to make the world greener and promise money towards future research, Google is actually doing the work of moving us towards a greener more sustainable future.
What you might not know is that Google's current renewable energy portfolio of~$3Bn (investments and assets) makes it one of the largest renewable energy owning utilities in the world. Google has invested in Solarcity, Sunpower, Wind Farms in Carson County Texas, Jasper Power in South Africa, Clean Power Finance (a residential solar financing company) and runs several locations on hundreds of megawatts of clean energy with plans to run all it’s facilities on renewables by 2025. That's more investments in renewables than even the most progressive US utility (in a glacial industry like the utility industry it’s not quite hard to be called progressive)!!
As with dinosaurs, what will kill you is not a bigger dinosaur. It is the meteorites you didn’t even know were coming your way.
Remember how Google powered Yahoo search? Guess who’s wondering where the internet went now? What the utilities signing solar participation deals with Google don't seem to realize is that they have a powerful competitor on their hands. The industry forgets that Google had Powermeter (a dashboard for residential energy use management) that was shut down after 2 years it launched in 2010. What they don't know is that Powermeter was not a failed experiment, Powermeter was a 2 year beta test to learn things like how consumers only spend 6mins a year thinking about their energy (outside of paying their bills)! Sidenote: when Powermeter was shut down I sent an email to someone at Google trying to buy it for $10 or something ridiculous like that, I thought it would be a great ‘win’ for the company I’d founded then! Unsurprisingly I never got a response..
Still don't think Google is planning on becoming your utility? A few more indicators of intent:
- Nest: Unlike most analysts suggested, the Nest acquisition was not for data. It was the PowerMeter replacement with a product that actuallymanages the energy in your home rather than just measure and monitor the ~$1400/year the average consumer spends. Most utilities are spending millions of dollars to own the connected home to hedge their future. While the utilities are trying to figure this out Google, through Nest and it’s Google Fiber product in cities like Austin and Kansas City, already owns the Connected Home infrastructure layer...power over ethernet will get better.
- Toothpaste Test: Power (and energy) usage passes Larry Page’s toothpaste test; Other than energy, I can't think of too many other things that you and I use all day and makes our lives better. Energy is probably the only thing left that passes this test that Google isn’t currently involved in at scale.
- Power (the other one): What is more important than access to the internet for most of us? If you’ve read this far, you already guessed it; it’s the energy that we use to power the devices that give us access to the internet. From Google's perspective why not control that too? From a systems perspective, one of the input flows for what makes our use of the internet possible is energy. Own the energy and you own another critical element in how you and I survive in this technology driven world we live in.
- Smart Cities/Infrastructure: Google is doing serious work, through Sidewalk (one of the few startups to have been spun out of Google), on smart city development and understanding. Energy is one of the 4 core elements of a smart city. The other three are policy, infrastructure and people. Google is making big and bold statements through investments in both energy and city infrastructure.
- Market Size: The global energy industry is one of the few Trillion Dollar opportunities left. It also just so happens that the product does not need customization in every new market you go into...
These investments, these steps, are the elements of the long game where losses are incurred in the short-term (something the utility competitors cannot afford due to shareholder pressure) to lay the ground for long term competitiveness and outsize returns based on learnings from in-house experiments and external bets. It’s the typical strategy for innovative companies.
What would complete Google’s move towards this inevitable future? It would be actually purchasing renewable energy and connected home assets of a utility. Or even the utility itself. One big one did just come up for sale...
Now that's a #BigIdea...