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guest views: Drew Johnson
Google’s energy plan – expensive, impractical

Internet heavyweight Google has decided to turn its attention to America’s energy problems. But Google’s suggestions could end up costing taxpayers a fortune – and accomplish next to nothing.

Google has proposed a $4.4 trillion energy plan that calls for an immediate switch from conventional fuels to alternatives. The company wants 100 percent of U.S. power generation to come from sources such as solar and wind, and it wants to do it in the next 20 years.

That’s an outlay of about one-third more than the total current federal budget. And it would be spent on a strategy that people who have devoted their lives to the study of energy think is essentially undoable. There would, however, be one big benefit – for Google, and it would show up on the company’s bottom line.

Google has good reason to be interested in energy. The massive data centers that support its lucrative online advertising business use immense amounts of electricity. The company carefully conceals its actual consumption (Google wouldn’t commit to building a $600 million data center in Oklahoma until the state legislature passed a special law exempting utility companies from disclosing the energy use of large customers) but it is widely thought to be among the biggest in the industry. One of its centers in Oregon reportedly operates at about 50 megawatts, roughly the equivalent of the demand generated by 37,500 average homes.

It comes as no great surprise then that Google’s energy plan contains a massive upgrade of the U.S. electricity grid. But proposing that American taxpayers foot the bill for that upgrade, coupled with an unreasonable timetable for abandoning proven traditional fuels, is a recipe for financial disaster and energy failure.

Fossil fuels provide the bulk of our power generation right now and new technologies are making their use easier on the environment. We are in the process of incorporating more alternative fuels, but that change must be accomplished in a careful, methodical manner. Energy shortages and resulting high costs will devastate our economy.

Today, half of all U.S. electricity generation comes from coal, with 20 percent each from natural gas and nuclear and 1.5 percent from oil. Google’s plan calls for coal and oil to be replaced by the year 2030, primarily by wind, solar and geothermal energy, all technologies that are essentially in their infancy. Even if these renewable fuels grew by 20 percent a year for the next 22 years (an extremely implausible accomplishment) they would still fall far short of meeting even our present demand.

To put it bluntly, Google doesn’t know what it’s talking about. That’s not a shock, since Google has no history in the energy business or knowledge on energy issues, and have only recently started hiring people that do. Its sudden self-proclamation as an energy authority and the issuance of this far-fetched proposal strikes real experts as arrogant and counterproductive.

Google certainly has the right to get into the energy business. It has invested some of its money in energy-related projects, including a recently patented floating wave-powered data center. But it has no justification for suggesting the federal government finance its ventures with our tax dollars.

It isn’t flashy and it isn’t an overnight cure, but the best solution to our energy problems is still the “all-of-the-above” strategy supported by most industry experts and — as numerous polls have shown — by the majority of the American people. Make full use of all the domestic energy resources available to us, keep prices at levels families and businesses can afford, and let corporate giants like Google bankroll its own schemes.

Drew Johnson is president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee through the ideas of liberty. Visit TCPR online at:


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