Google Shows Hybrid Cars That Return Juice To The Grid

The cars returned some of the solar power gathered from Google's newly completed 1.6-megawatt photovoltaic system, power stored in the battery of the car, to the PG&E electrical grid.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

June 19, 2007

5 Min Read

With hundreds of thousands of servers around the world, Google consumes plenty of power. On Monday, at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, the search company began giving some of it back.

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Google's plug-in Prius

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At a press event yesterday, Google co-founder Sergey Brin attached an electrical cord to a plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius and, with the assistance of Brad Whitcomb, VP of customer products and services for Pacific Gas & Electric, made one of Google's power meters run in reverse. They returned some of the solar power gathered from Google's newly completed 1.6-megawatt photovoltaic system, power stored in the battery of the car, to the PG&E electrical grid in a demonstration of how technology can be employed to respond to global climate change and to promote renewable energy.

Photos from the event can be found here.

"The project that we are launching today, RechargeIT, is part of a climate change and energy program that we have," said Larry Brilliant, executive director of, the search company's philanthropic arm. "We hope to demonstrate the potential of plug-in hybrid cars and vehicle-to-grid technologies as a way to create a more secure, efficient, and green energy system."

Brin, Brilliant, Google corporate environmental program manager Robyn Beavers, Idealab CEO William Gross, and representatives from PG&E, Sharp, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and battery maker A123 Systems took turns behind the podium to elaborate on benefits of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, and clean energy generation. Google co-founder Larry Page showed up to help Brin navigate a PHEV through the crowded Google parking lot where Monday's event took place.

Environmental projects are getting to be a habit at Google, not to mention elsewhere in the tech industry. On Tuesday, Google joined the Climate Group with the aim to become carbon neutral by 2008. Last week, Google joined with Dell, EDS, the Environmental Protection Agency, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, PG&E, World Wildlife Fund, and some 25 other organizations to announce the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, an environmental effort to make computers more energy efficient. And Google has been busy trying to reshape U.S. energy policy to address climate change.

For all its environmental concern, Google lags behind Microsoft and Yahoo in climate-related actions, according to the Climate Counts, a nonprofit environmental organization. The Climate Counts Scorecard released today rates Google at 17 out of a possible 100. Microsoft and Yahoo are rated 31 and 36, respectively. Canon, Nike, and Unilever scored the top three spots at 77, 73, and 71, respectively. Among tech companies, Amazon, Apple, and eBay scored the lowest, with 0, 2, and 2, respectively.

Google now generates about one-third of the power required to run its corporate headquarters at peak demand using solar cells. Its photovoltaic panel installation is the largest on any corporate campus in the United States, according to the company.

Google's RechargeIT initiative includes several announcements: a series of grants to various organizations to advance plug-in hybrid research and commercialization; plans to publish a formal request for proposals on Google's Web site to accelerate the commercialization of alternative, climate-friendly transportation and technology; the Google Fleet program, a partnership with Enterprise Rent-A-Car that will eventually provide 100 plug-in hybrid Toyota Priuses to Google employees; and the Plug-In Data Project, by which Google will make performance data for its plug-in hybrids accessible online to anyone.

The main focus of RechargeIT, however, is to help bring PHEVs to market and develop the V2G infrastructure that will power customers to become power suppliers. The advantage of a PHEV over a standard hybrid is fairly straightforward: A Toyota Prius hybrid gets about 45 mpg. A plug-in hybrid Prius gets 70 to 100 mpg.

And as PHEVs become more common, PG&E envisions being able to tap idle cars for power during the day during periods of peak demand and price and having drivers recharge at night when power usage and rates are lower. By selling power back to the power company and participating in the delivery of other utility services such as frequency control and spinning reserve, plug-in hybrid owners could earn some $2,000 to $3,000 per year, according to one study.

PG&E estimates consumers could "earn anywhere between a couple hundred and a few thousand dollars per year" by contracting with a utility. The company has no estimate as to when V2G technology might be available to the public.

"With the Internet, people can pay for power based on what the real demand is," explained Brin. "People have shown the ability to change their demand based on price. So mechanisms like that can help a lot to use the grid more efficiently."

"If you have a million of these cars, you'll have more generation capacity than the grid has," Brin added. "That's really valuable."

"There's money to be made here. There's an awful lot of good for the environment to be done," said Dan Richer, director of climate change and energy initiatives at "As Sergey said, we can improve people's quality of life in so many ways."

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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