Google made its first direct investment in a utility-scale renewable energy project — two wind farms that generate 169.5 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 55,000 homes. These wind farms, developed by NextEra Energy Resources, harness power from one of the world’s richest wind resources in the North Dakota plains and use existing transmission capacity to deliver clean energy to the region, reducing the use of fossil fuels. Through this $38.8 million investment, Google is aiming to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy — in a way that makes good business sense, too.
To reach a clean energy future, Google needs three things: effective policy, innovative technology and smart capital. Through Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org, Google has been pushing for energy policies that strengthen the innovation pipeline, and Google has been dedicating resources to developing new technologies, including making investments in early-stage renewable energy companies such as eSolar and AltaRock. Smart capital includes not only these early-stage company investments, but also dedicated funding for utility-scale projects. To tackle this need, Google has been looking at investments in renewable energy projects, like the one Google just signed, that can accelerate the deployment of the latest clean energy technology while providing attractive returns to Google and more capital for developers to build additional projects.
Google says that it’s excited about this first project investment because it uses some of the latest wind turbine technology and control systems to provide one of the lowest-cost sources of renewable energy to the local grid. The turbines can continuously adjust the individual blade pitch angles to achieve optimal efficiency and use larger blades with 15 percent more swept area than earlier generations, allowing capture of even more wind energy for each turbine. The control systems for these wind farms are also advanced and dynamic, allowing for remote 24/7 monitoring and operation to ensure maximum turbine up-time and power production. A couple of us got a chance to climb 80 meters up one of the 113 turbines to see firsthand how the rotating blade motion goes through a gearbox to turn the generator that makes the electricity.