Google's Secret Plan, Revealed!

If Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) going to take the battle to Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , it may as well strike where the Mac maker is most vulnerable: the living room.

The first sortie? Supply the power that lights up your electronic life. On Friday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Google Energy the right to behave like a utility, selling whatever power it doesn't use for itself. (And it uses plenty.)

More on how this affects Apple in a minute. First, let's recount where we've been.

Shine the light over here
It would be pretty easy to dismiss this news as more Google showmanship, especially when -- in a sad-yet-oddly hilarious twist -- the feds also named Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) and Safeway (Nasdaq: SWY  ) as authorized power sellers.

I'm nevertheless inclined to take this seriously, because Google has demonstrated an affinity for alternative energy. In 2007, the search king activated one of the largest installations of solar panels in the United States. Combined, these cells have produced more than 6.2 million kilowatt-hours of power over the past 2.5 years.

Google has also been upfront about its bets on renewable technologies and ideas. In January of 2008, the company's philanthropic arm invested $25 million in several green initiatives; $10 million went to eSolar, whose thermal technology the company said had the potential "to produce utility-scale power cheaper than coal."

Since, eSolar has attracted a $130 million follow-on round of financing and won several high-profile deals. Last month, the company announced plans to license technology to Penglai Electric of China, which aims to build 2,000 megawatts worth of power plants by 2021.

My point? To Google, green innovation is anything but a joke. It's a central competency.

Now, the core of the story
And that's a problem for Apple, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , and perhaps others. Delivering power could help Google deliver data.

Here's why: Google was an early sponsor of and remains an advocate for a technology called broadband over power lines (BPL), which performs exactly as the name implies. In 2005, The Big G joined Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) , Hearst, and others in a consortium that invested a reported $100 million in a Maryland BPL company called Current Communications.

BPL hasn't gone far in the years since, but that may finally be changing. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, in October announced a first round of comments to a BPL standard proposed by a working group of interested companies.

This is more important than it sounds, Fool. IEEE is the most important standards setter for communicative technologies. Its workgroups helped to establish Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) and WiMAX (802.16), among others. Now, they're working on BPL.

Balance this against what Google said two weeks ago when it announced an experimental plan to light up 1,000 megabits-per-second (mbps) broadband connections to as many as 500,000 U.S. households. BPL is designed for a comparatively poky 100 mbps, but that's still 50 times faster than today's average broadband connection.

Therein lies Google's gateway to the living room.

Is this the boost Google TV needs?
A lot can change in the way consumers get their entertainment when 100 mbps of broadband power is delivered via the electric socket. Smart metering and monitoring of power consumption, for one thing. Real-time delivery of on-demand video programming, for another.

More broadly, a fat, easy-to-manage pipe could elevate the Web to that of a primary vehicle for the delivery of entertainment and information. Just plug in your cable or satellite box and let the data flow in.

For Google, it'd be a massive boon. Each household would be indexed, as if it were a website. Algorithms would determine what ads to show and when. TV ads, in particular, realizing a vision first espoused in a research paper that ZDNet cited in 2006:

Taking this further, we could collect snippets from the Web describing the actors appearing in a movie or present maps of locales within the movie as it takes place (no matter if users are watching it as a live broadcast or as a recoded broadcast).

This would be better than Google TV Ads is now; a buy-side marketplace where pitchmen compete for airtime. Schmidt envisioned something more intelligent when he spoke four years ago. Owning the pipe -- a BPL pipe -- might help his company deliver.

It's a short path from there to a Google set-top box or server that delivers channels, YouTube, and, of course, smart ads. Don't think The Big G would go that far? I've got two words for you: Nexus One.

Therein lies the problem for Apple and other set-top box makers. Google Schmidt would like to see them do more than they are. With Google Energy newly approved and BPL in development, the company may be done waiting.

How do you think Google will infiltrate the living room? Make your voice heard using the comments box below.

Apple and Amazon are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy was in the living room just a minute ago.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (24)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2010, at 1:54 PM, theHedgehog wrote:

    BPL is a failure in the US. It is a failure overseas. It's likely that it will continue to be a failure regardless of who is trying to implement it. Why is it a failure? Because it's dirty as in it pollutes the radio waves.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2010, at 3:06 PM, two4onebill wrote:

    Maybe GOOG and B of A plan on selling the energy they are both saving by using the Bloom Energy Bloom Box.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2010, at 3:17 PM, langco1 wrote:

    google is copying any new product that comes on the market as their desperation to maintain their failing status grows.google's founders saw the writing on the wall and started selling massive amounts of their holdings...

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2010, at 3:34 PM, databasemarket wrote:

    Is it just me or is Google taking it's eye off the ball?

    They are a search company. But they (the owners) are starting to have world domination plans and losing sight of where they fit in the grand scheme.

    It's a very good search engine and ad platform. Create other companies that do other things.

    Don't damage your core business.

    I would short Google.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2010, at 5:21 PM, esekla wrote:

    It's true that BPL is a failure for long-haul deployments to consumers because of the radio pollution issue. However, it has a great variety of specific use niches, such as smart energy grids, rail monitoring, etc. Check out the work being done by Ambient (ABTG) now just starting to market devices for such application in conjunction with Verizon (VZ).

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2010, at 5:22 PM, esekla wrote:

    It's true that BPL is a failure for long-haul deployments to consumers because of the radio pollution issue. However, it has a great variety of specific use niches, such as smart energy grids, rail monitoring, etc. Check out the work being done by Ambient (ABTG) now just starting to market devices for such application in conjunction with Verizon (VZ).

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2010, at 11:59 AM, ByrneShill wrote:

    BPL is an epic FAIL. The technical traps you need to step through to implement such a low-bandwidth channel aren't worth it.

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