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Google Green

Google.Org's Director of Climate and Energy Initiatives talks about the information giant's embrace of renewable energy and vehicle-to-grid hybrids.

By EV World

Dan Reicher has been in government, venture capital and now he is spearheading Google's efforts to not only promote sustainable energy and transportation technologies, but to also "walk the talk."

Just before talking to him via telephone from California, he and the leadership at Google, including the head of its non-profit wing, Larry Brilliant, debuted the firm's solar array and its vehicle-to-grid (V2G) plug-in hybrid. That simple gesture probably did more to raise public awareness of the V2G concept than if it had been included in the president's State of the Union address.

Which raises an interesting question that I posed to Reicher.

EV World: Which of the several positions that you've held -- government, finance, non-profit -- has allowed you to, in a sense, do the most good in terms of climate change, energy, the environment?

Reicher: I am a big believer that you need all of those. I think about a triangle of technologies, policy and finance. That's the way that we're going to get to a sustainable energy future. So, the government has a big role to play in setting policy, incentives, mandates... and the like. There's an import role that the technology world plays in moving ahead with critical green technologies. And I think that, ultimately, it's the finance world that is going to provide the capital to get all this done. It's private sector capital, leavened by policy, leavened by advanced in technology that are critical.

So, I tink that all these things work together and I charted my career so that I could bring all those things together. It's exciting to be here at Google where we put policy and investment together. We are focused on both when it comes to climate change. We're working in Washington. We're focused as well on the states and what they are doing on the policy side. And we're also making real-live investments and grants to move these opportunities forward.

EV World: Why would an information technology company like Google be interested in putting up solar panels and buying plug-in hybrids?

Reicher: Google, Inc... the company is very committed to greening its operations, in fact, as we speak it is making a major committment to carbon neutrality. So, the company believes [it must], as a company, reduce its environmental footprint; thus the largest solar array of any corporate campus in the United States.

Google.org, which is the philantrophic wing of Google, believes that we can take what Google is committed to and send it -- literally -- worldwide. That we can advance breakthrough climate and energy technologies through policy and investment. We're a bit of a hybrid entity doing both traditional, philanthropic grant-making. We're also doing for-profit investing in key companies and projects that can really advance these big, green opportunities that we see out there in the world.

EV World: How much of the photovoltaic array meets the energy needs of Google?

Reicher: I am told that it can meet about thirty percent of the peak electric load of the Mountainview (California) campus. Its 1.6 megawatts is roughly equivalent to the energy that a 1,000 California homes would use. It's significant for a solar electric system, and what's exciting is that we have charging stations beneath these panels for our hybrid electric and all electric vehicles.

EV World: You're in PG&E's service area. How supportive have they been of your efforts to introduce solar and plug-in hybrids and electric cars?

Reicher: They've been very supportive, and in fact, they are a real partner with us not only in the solar system but also in this whole vehicle-to-grid demonstration that we're doing... very supportive in the larger efforts toward the commercialization of these plug-in hybrids.

EV World: How many plug-in hybrids do you have?

Reicher: We have built five and we have another one coming, another Ford Escape [hybrid] and we're going to push on initially to about ten plug-in hybrids. And then with Enterprise Rent-a-Car, over time, we're going to add 100 plug-in hybrids to our corporate fleet, the vehicles that Google employees can use to get around Mountainview and the Bay Area.

EV World:: Who is doing the conversions?

Reicher:: A123, the [lithium ion] battery company and HyMotion, the company they bought.

EV World: How are the plug-in hybrids being used?

Reicher:: They are being used by the employees of Google and folks in Google.org. We have data loggers in those vehicles; and I should also mention that we have a control group of regular Priuses and that's allowed us to have a base line, and this is where we got our data that demonstrates the control group of unconverted Priuses are getting about 41 mpg and the plug-ins roughly 74-75 mpg.

EV World: How many of the plug-in Priuses have V2G capability?

Reicher:: One of our converted Priuses has vehicle-to-grid, which as you probably know involves having to put an inverter in to convert the DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current). This allows us to begin to do the V2G demos. That's one of the demos we did yesterday.

We are very interested in vehicle-to-grid for our own vehicles. We will look at vehicle-to-grid investment opportunities in our $10 million RFP (request for proposal). We are going to consider vehicle-to-grid opportunities in the larger corporate fleet that we do with Enterprise. Vehice-to-grid is a very important focus us for in the larger world of plug-in hybrids. And PG&E is very much in sync from a technical and policy perspective.

EV World: What's the biggest missing piece in the vehicle-to-grid pathway? Is it the hardware, the software or the political will?

Reicher: I think there are a number of small-to-medium challenges with vehicle-to-grid. Obviously, we need to continue to make advances with the batteries themselves so that their longevity, their cost, their durability is further established. I think that the software protocols that allow the cars to talk to the grid and the grid to talk to the cars, those need to be advanced. There's going to be standardization issues that we need to face. For example, the types of plugs that we're going to be using. We want to assure that as the large car companies move into plug-ins and vehicle-to-grid that we don't have to stumble. In fact, some of these standards and regulator issues have to be addressed up front, and that's is part of what we're going to be focusing on.

We saw some mistakes made with the EV1 and other vehicles, and we think that if we can get the car companies to sit down, the utilities to sit down, and advocates, the university experts and really discuss what the smooth transition to plug-in with vehicle-to-grid looks like, we might have a more rapid commercialization success.

EV World: Talk about the $10 million RFP.

Reicher:: The $10 million dollar RFP, which will be issued later this summer, will be aimed at investments that we can make in advancing key technologies around vehicle-to-grid and plug-in hybrids, and indeed all electrics, as well. It will be investments. There will be a related effort to make grants of additional funds outside the $10 million, but the RFP will be focused primarily in actual investments that Google.org can accelerate for plug-ins and vehicle-to-grid.

EV World: So, these are not limited to non-profit entities?

Reicher:: That's correct. One of the nice things about Google.org is that we have flexibility in terms of the tools that we use. We may have an idea that comes in that lends itself to investment [or] it might better lend itself to a grant... or a research contract. We can play all the keys on the piano when it comes to how we move this opportunity forward.

EV World: Converting a Prius or a Escape to plug-in is expensive at the moment and not something most car buyers are going to be willing to spend money on. Do you have a sense of where the price point is that will nudge buyers to move up to plug-ins?

Reicher:: I don't have a specific answer. Obviously, what goes into that decision-making on the part of the consumer includes the upfront cost of the vehicle and the cost for fuel and maintenance. If we're really going to see a 25, 30, 35 mpg savings on a plug-in verse a regular hybrid and, indeed, far greater versus a regular gasoline car, then... as gas prices rise [people] are going to be willing to probably pay more to get this advantage. If, in fact, we're going to see serious potential to make some money selling electricity back to the grid, I think that will also affect it.

Part of what we're going to be doing is trying to get a better quantitative answer on what the benefits and challenges are with plug-ins versus regular hybrids versus regular, all-gasoline and diesel vehicles. And out of that will come a better sense of what the market will bear. Meanwhile, we're going to encourage policy makers to provide incentives for plug-ins that will help reduce the delta between regular vehicles and plug-ins.

EV World: What is the role of RechargeIt.org?

Reicher:: It's designed to get the information out about plug-ins. Specifically, that's going to be a place to visit to see how we are doing with our fleet of plug-ins and the related control group that we have to see whether or not this big fuel economy savings and reduction in climate emissions holds up over time. We think that it will, but as we put more and more miles on these vehicles, we have all different kinds or drivers driving both the plug-ins and the control group, we think we're going to be able to establish some of that key data, [which] we're going to use to educate the public. We're going to use it to announce our request for proposal, and just get the word out on the real benefit and, indeed, the challenges of plug-ins.

EV World: Will companies look at Google and say, 'If they can do this, so can we", or will they say, "Sure Google can do this, but we can't afford it"?

Reicher:: We hope that we can establish that plug-ins can become an increasingly mainstream approach to improving fuel economy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions; and we think that, in fact, it is going to make this a real opportunity for other companies. There are lots of other companies that want to green themselves up so they may take a serious look, we expect, at plug-in hybrids to add to their corporate fleets. There are others that are engaged in the policy world and can weigh-in there positively about the opportunities with plug-ins. They may decide to enter into partnerships with Google and other players in this and try to accelerate this. We really want to convince the auto manufacturers that this ought to be in their sights in the very near term. We really want to convince the utilities that it benefits them to get into this game. And we really want to get the automakers and the utilities talking to each other."

Times Article Viewed: 13601
Published: 26-Jun-2007

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