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Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, has taken a number of stakes in solar and wind startups over the past year, most recently joining a $115 million investment in solar thermal firm BrightSource Energy. It now seems to be focusing its attention on the bustling geothermal energy sector, with Google co-founder Sergey Brin recently expressing a strong interest in Ormat, a geothermal startup headquartered in Reno, Nevada.
During an interview with the Israeli newspaper, The Marker, Brin confirmed that his company was in discussions with Ormat to collaborate on several clean energy projects, calling the startup a “great company” and praising it for its potential to turn geothermal energy “into a big business.” Though he wouldn’t say whether Google was in talks to purchase any Israeli cleantech companies, he did say that the conditions were good for his firm to buy companies in 2009. He said there were a lot of interesting companies that worked in renewable energy and electric cars — perhaps a nod to Shai Agassi’s Project Better Place.
According to Haaretz, senior executives at Google have already met with their counterparts from Ormat twice, and Larry Page recently visited one of the company’s plants in Steamboat Hills, Nevada. Ormat chairman Lucien Bronicki said he and Google officials were pushing legislation in the U.S. advocating more R&D for advanced geothermal technology. Ormat announced in February that it would work with the DOE and several geothermal companies — GeothermEx and Pinnacle Technologies — to test Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology at its 11 megawatt Desert Peak facility.
The DOE has committed $1.6 million to support the project, which could eventually yield over 50 MW of power. The partnership will test hot fractured rock (HFR) technology to attempt to increase the output of its geothermal wells. Sydney, Australia-based Geodynamics, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, has been on the forefront with this technology and is nearing the completion of a 50 MW demonstration plant to supply up to 75,000 people by 2012.
Ormat has several existing projects in Guatemala, Kenya and Nicaragua is considered the world leader in geothermal energy.
In addition to making a series of high-profile investments in eSolar, BrightSource and Makani Power as part of its RE<C initiative, Google has also donated over $1 million in grants to support plug-in vehicle adoption. The foundation’s RechargeIT initiative recently gave $200,000 to CalCars.org. Page said Google.org’s goal is to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity from wind, geothermal and solar thermal sources cheaper than coal, an objective he and Brin are optimistic will be met in years, rather than decades.
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