Google's 'Green Energy Czar' talks company's projects in campus visit

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Buy this photo

BY VALIANT LOWITZ
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 15, 2009

Google “Green Energy Czar” Bill Weihl gave the keynote address at the University’s 14th annual Energy Fest yesterday.

The lecture, titled “Inventing a Clean Energy Future at Google,” focused primarily on Google’s newly launched green initiatives.

Weihl heads the green energy division at Google, which means he oversees the research and development of new technologies with which to reduce not just Google’s carbon footprint but also world’s carbon impact at large.

The speech began with a discussion of Google’s latest energy program. The program focuses on engineering ways to reduce the cost of producing clean energy.

The point of the project, according to Google’s website, is “to create renewable energy cheaper than coal (and) will focus on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, and enhanced geothermal systems.”

Weihl also spoke about Google PowerMeter, which, if put into operation, would provide detailed information about a specific household’s energy consumption.

“If you give people this kind of data,” Weihl said, “just through simple behavior changes, with people now aware of how much they’re using, they will on average reduce their electricity use between 5 and 15 percent.”

Other initiatives Weihl talked about in the speech include RechargeIT, aimed at accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles and Clean Energy 2030, a project to find “a potential path to weaning the U.S. off of coal and oil for electricity generation by 2030 (with some remaining use of natural gas as well as nuclear), and cutting oil use for cars by 40 percent,” according to Google’s official blog.

Weihl said he hoped Google’s leadership would drive innovation in the clean energy sector.

Areas Weihl mentioned specifically included solar, thermal, high-altitude wind and enhanced geothermal energy.

Business senior Akash Jaggi said he found the lecture to be “pretty informative,” but would have like to have heard more about “what undergraduates could do about studying or personal initiatives.”

Rackham student Greg Buzzell, who holds a Master of Business Administration from the Business School and a Master of Science from the School of Natural Resources and Environment, said that the big takeaway point from the lecture was that “the private sector is going to have to take the lead in this effort in order to see results.”

He added: “It’s great that … Google is tackling this problem, even if it’s not their core competency.”

“We have an opportunity, no an obligation, to take a stand,” Weihl said to the crowd.

—Alex Kirshenbaum contributed to this report.