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Google Enters the Solar Industry

By Anders Bylund – Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 1:01AM

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Ruling the Internet is all good, but Google won't do it at the expense of the real world.

Did you know that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is one of the greenest companies on Earth?

Google's famous "don't be evil" mantra really comes to life when you consider the considerable work Big G is doing to run its business with minimal damage to the environment. It takes a lot of power to run Google's enormous computing resources -- the Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View, CA, consumes about 22 megawatt-hours of electric power every day, which is enough to power more than 3,000 typical Californian homes.

And Google is doing its part to avoid rolling brownouts. The headquarters gets 30% of that massive power supply from over 9,000 solar panels installed on the roof. That's great -- but Google wants better, cheaper, and more efficient solar power. At the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit this week, Google's green energy chief Bill Weihl detailed what Google is doing for solar energy.

"We've been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on," he said. The idea is to cut the cost of generating solar power to standard commercial rates, and the company is betting that large arrays of reflectors that drive steam turbines could get there within two or three years -- at a commercial scale.

I don't expect Google to become a direct rival to SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWRA) or Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE:STP) anytime soon. Nor will Google move into the public utility sector, where Otter Tail (NASDAQ:OTTR) and Southern (NYSE:SO) make their living. But Google is making earnest and worthwhile contributions to the science of clean power -- and Big G is eating its own cooking.

Google isn't the only IT giant with an environmental conscience, of course -- but it's taking green thinking to whole new levels. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has a smaller solar array right next door to Google's flagship in Mountain View, but powers a much smaller fraction of its operations this way than Google does. Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) wants to reduce its carbon footprint by 40% in the next five years. Google wants to be carbon-neutral -- now!

The commitment to a healthy environment doesn't stop there. Google sponsors the development of electric cars, cools its data centers with recycled water, and lots more besides. The "don't be evil" thinking starts at the grassroots level -- quite literally. I honestly believe that this thinking permeates the entire company and is a tangible business advantage.

Does Google truly care about you, me, and coming generations -- or am I drinking too much of Big G's Kool-Aid? Make your opinion known in the comments box below.

Google and Suntech Power Holdings are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Southern is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Otter Tail is a longtime Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

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