In 2007, Google invested a large amount of money to develop a renewable source of energy which was supposed to be cheaper than coal. RE<C was a great initiative by one of the biggest technology leaders in the world, but it unfortunately failed only four years after its launch.
Over the four years of the project, Google invested millions of dollars in promising renewable energy initiatives and in clean energy research and development. The main goal of all of these efforts was to develop new economically efficient clean energy technologies.
In 2011, Google gave up on this promising project. The reason behind Google's decision is still ambiguous. The project was not successful, but it was not a complete failure either. The Google dissolution announcement claimed “At this point, other institutions seem better positioned than Google to take this work to the next level. Therefore, we’ve retired our engineering work on RE<C and are sharing our key findings”.
Some of RE<C engineers revealed that all of Google's efforts toward developing renewable energy technologies such as solar thermal power system, wind turbine power, and many other technologies would not really be able to compete economically with coal.
Ross Koningstein and David Fork, who ran RE<C, had a hope similar to the environmentalists that with some effort and improvement on renewable energy, the world would be able to face climate changes, but the focus cannot only be on renewable energy. Koningestein and Fork said
“We came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach. So we’re issuing a call to action. There’s hope to avert disaster if our society takes a hard look at the true scale of the problem and uses that reckoning to shape its priorities.”
Google’s vision has been very influential in technology, so how about renewable energy? This failure seems destructive for many entrepreneurships who invest in renewable energy technologies. I believe that Google's experience will have a negative influence on renewable energy R&D, but I would say that the bitter truth is always better than a sweet lie. We should learn from Google's experience, build on it, and go forward. Scientists can achieve the impossible.