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Google Invests $168 Million In Solar Project

The BrightSource Energy power plant in the Mojave Desert, scheduled for completion in 2013, is expected to be the world's largest solar thermal facility.

Google is investing in solar energy projects.
(click image for larger view)
Google is investing in solar energy projects.

Google on Monday said that it has invested $168 million in a Mojave Desert, Calif., solar energy project developed by BrightSource Energy.

The BrightSource Energy project, known as the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, will provide 392 megawatts of solar energy over the power plant's projected 25-year lifespan. It relies on a field of mirrors, a heliostat, to focus the sun's rays on a solar receiver on top of a nearby tower.

"The solar receiver generates steam, which then spins a traditional turbine and generator to make electricity, explains Rick Needham, Google's director of green business operations, in a blog post. "Power towers are very efficient because all those mirrors focus a tremendous amount of solar energy onto a small area to produce steam at high pressure and temperature."

The result, a tower topped by a blaze of energy, looks as if it were inspired by the depiction of the eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings movies, blue sky and desert color-scheme notwithstanding.

Ground was broken for the Ivanpah project in October, 2010. The project, overseen by Bechtel, is expected to be the world's largest solar thermal facility once it is completed, which should be in 2013.

Google declined to specify how much of an ownership stake its investment represents, but it did state that the investment is its largest energy sector investment yet. To date, Google has invested over $250 million in clean energy.

Google's investment in the Ivanpah facility is just over half the $300 million stake taken by New Jersey-based NRG Energy last year. The project is also backed by a $1.375 billion conditional commitment for a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Google has a long history of supporting innovative energy projects. Last October, for example, Google joined several other companies in supporting a project to build an offshore wind energy transmission system called the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC). And in 2007, the company launched its RechargeIt initiative to promote the hybrid electric plug-in vehicles and smart grid technologies.

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