Google is cashing in on more than just the massive popularity of its search engine and internet services. It is also using a $1.4 billion investment in solar technology to not only provide power to homes in Northern California, but take advantage of tax breaks. That hefty investment has made Google the largest backer of solar power, other than utilities and financial institutions, in the United States, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“We look at projects that will give us attractive returns,” said director of energy and sustainability Rick Needham.
Google co-founder Larry Page added that investing in green technology is a “natural” way for Google to spend and invest the $60 billion in cash it has stockpiled because it was and is “a large consumer of energy due to our data centers.” Not only will it help conserve the environment and help Americans power their homes, it could help cash savings grow.
In order to turn the investment into a positive one, Google uses tax-equity financing, which allows them to offset tax obligations with renewable energy investments. Solar power investments can provide returns of anywhere between 10 and 14% annually, with around half the profit tied to incentives, said Paul Maxwell of Navigant Consulting.
According to statistics from GTM Research, the U.S. solar panel industry was worth around $8.6 billion in 2011 and swelled to $11.5 billion a year later. But, since 2010, panel prices have plummeted 58% as a result of Chinese manufacturers glutting the industry. Those lower prices might be good for homeowners looking for alternative energies and companies like Google who want a profitable investment in solar power, but American manufacturers like Solyndra LLC and Everygreen Solar Inc. have since declared bankruptcy.
“More projects can get done when the costs come down,” said Michael Metzner, chief financial officer of Recurrent Energy, a solar-power developer that has had half a dozen projects financed by Google. “We can now provide solar power at costs that are quickly approaching those of conventional energy.”
Google is not the only internet giant working to gain traction with alternative energy investments. Social media monolith Facebook is developing a wind farm in Iowa and hopes to meet a quarter of its data center power requirements with renewable resources by 2015. Though it doesn’t have the spending capacity of Google, it could mark the beginning of a trend for similar companies.
Regardless of whether major corporations choose to finance alternative energy projects to turn an additional profit, simply go green, or both, the investments should prove to be beneficial in the long run. But the financial backing is imperative and, as Google’s head of corporate finance Kojo Ako-Asare says, “What drives a high-quality solar plant is all economics.”