What Google Learned About Climate Change by Failing to Solve It
In 2007, Google began investing heavily in renewable energy research, including a "Moonshot" initiative called Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C).
The goal of RE<C was to bring "Google speed" innovation to renewable energies and, as the name suggests, develop renewable energy sources as good as but cheaper than coal.
By 2011, the project was clearly not going to achieve its goals, and Google shuttered it, but not before ordering researchers from the project to learn what lessons they could from their failure.
On the one hand, the researchers concluded that iterative improvements to existing renewable energy technologies simply will not achieve the RE<C goal any time soon. The key, therefore, will lie in some future innovations, disruptive innovations whose financial benefits will be so great as to drive the same profit motives currently driven by fossil fuel energy. The technology must not just be cheaper, but substantially cheaper, or at least accessible to a larger number of interests who, unlike existing energy providers, would not have an existing investment in infrastructure to dissuade them.
On the other hand, they realized that their best case scenario would simply not reduce CO2 levels in our atmosphere to below the critical level of 350 parts per million of the atmosphere, indeed we've already passed this and their best scenario merely slowed its increase. Consequently, cleaner energy tech alone won't prevent the catastrophic consequences of climate change. We must also find ways to capture atmospheric carbon and "sequester" it somehow.
For decades it has been a virtual Doctrine among many environmentalists that solar, wind, and other existing renewables would, with sufficient investment and innovation, replace fossil fuels, and that in eliminating fossil fuel use, climate change would be prevented. While Google's efforts may not be the final word on the topic, they do show that even a sincere investment and effort to achieve this goal is no guarantee of success. #ClimateChange #ClimateScience #RenewableEnergy