Google turns on solar panels, plans $10 million in grants

Google turned on the solar panels on its campus and said it plans to grant $10 million to companies working on electric cars.

Google on Monday turned on the solar panels covering nearly all the roof space on its corporate campus and announced that its philanthropic arm plans to dole out over US$10 million in grants to support hybrid cars.

The announcements follow one last week made from Google's offices in Mountain View, California that launched an industry-wide initiative around improving the energy efficiency of PCs and servers.

The solar panels, which make up the largest solar installation on a corporate campus in the U.S., produce 1.6 megawatts of energy, enough to supply about one-third of Google's energy use on the campus, said Jacquelline Fuller, a Google spokeswoman. In addition to the solar panels, Google has also unveiled a new employee parking garage where drivers can charge their plug-in cars, powering up their batteries using solar energy.

Plug-ins are hybrid cars that users can drive in all-electric mode for around 30 miles before relying on the gas engine. Because automobile manufacturers aren't producing plug-ins, Google is converting hybrid cars into plug-ins. So far, it has converted four Toyota Prius and two Ford Escapes, Fuller said. On its RechargeIT Web site, Google is posting data on the performance of the cars. Eventually, the company plans to have 100 such plug-in cars that employees who take public transportation to the office will be able to use to run errands during their work days as part of a car-sharing program.

The announcements about the changes to the corporate campus were part of the launch of the RechargeIT Initiative by Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the company, on Monday. The plan includes several efforts mainly around plug-in cars, starting with grants already dispersed to a variety of groups.

Google.org has given US$200,000 each to the Brookings Institute in support of a conference next year about federal policy to promote plug-in vehicles and CalCars for the continuation of its educational initiatives about the cars. The Electrical Power Research Institute, Plug-In America, Rocky Mountain Institute and a professor at the University of Delaware all have also received grants for their plug-in car projects.

In addition, Google.org has earmarked US$10 million for investments in companies and projects that support alternative transportation that reduces the use of fossil fuels and emissions. Later this summer the company plans to formally request proposals for the grant money.

Last week, Google hinted at the impending launch of environmental initiatives when it hosted the introduction of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. That group, which includes a who's-who list of the technology industry such as Intel, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, is setting a series of standards that will incrementally improve the efficiency of power cords used on PCs and servers through 2010.

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