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Technology

Google and GE Team Up to Save the U.S. Power Grid

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandSeptember 20, 2008 3:47 AM

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Google and General Electric have announced a partnership aimed at upgrading the United States electric power grid and pushing forward the development of renewable energy. The companies plan to conduct a joint lobbying effort in Washington to encourage the government to invest in developing a "smart grid," and will also work together on projects like geothermal energy systems and integrating plug-in electric cars into the grid.

The deal combines each company's strengths: GE will make the hardware -- from wind turbines to metering switches, and Google will make the software -- applying network technologies to the grid [Portfolio].

The announcement follows a speech given two weeks ago by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in which he laid out a blueprint for how the United States could switch over to generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, while also eliminating half of the gasoline-powered cars from the roads. While Google hasn't offered to follow through on that comprehensive proposal, which carried the hefty price tag of $2.7 billion, the partnership with GE seems to indicate that Google wants to put many of its suggestions into practice. In Schmidt's speech two weeks ago, he singled out the problems posed by the nation's aging and inefficient electricity grid.

There's a 9 percent efficiency loss in the current grid infrastructure, which could be offset with smart technology systems, he said. For example, a plug-in vehicle's batteries could be charged at night and then send surplus energy back into the system during the day, shifting power back to the grid at peak energy-usage times, he said. "I could imagine a smart garage where I would plug in my car and the computer handles it" [CNET].

In GE and Google's new partnership, the companies plan to lobby the government to develop a smart grid (with advanced computing and communication systems to distribute power more efficiently), and also to ensure that renewable energy power facilities are connected to the grid.

Wind, solar, geothermal or water energy is often only worth generating in remote areas which don't have any big power lines to carry the juice to the consumers. But the added cost of building the lines is frequently such that the project couldn't pay for itself, even given existing renewables incentives. Hence the push for government money [The Register].

A truly smart grid could have some surprising elements, as revealed in the DISCOVER article "The Latest Weapon Against Global Warming: Your Fridge."

Image: flickr/vaxomatic

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