Business Achievement: Finance


Gold MedalGoogle (Mountain View, Calif.) quietly ended in November 2011 its quest to develop renewable energy technology that would generate power more cheaply than coal. That announcement on google's green blog came as no surprise to observers who had noted the company was shifting investment from its main coal-beating champions—enhanced geothermal power and the brayton engine technology for concentrating solar power (CSP)—to investments in traditional renewable energy projects.

Google's investments in clean energy projects totaled $915 million by the end of 2011, according to the company, after its December announcement of a $94 million investment in a portfolio of four solar PV projects being built by Recurrent Energy near Sacramento. Earlier in 2011 the search engine giant, whose revenues rose 31% to $27.3 billion in the nine months ending September 30, had invested $168 million in BrightSource Energy's 392 MW Ivanpah CSP project, $100 million in the massive 845 MW Shepherds Flat wind farm under development in Oregon by Caithness Energy and an undisclosed share in a $280 million fund established with SolarCity to finance residential PV systems. Google is also driving the renewable energy market with its own clean power purchases, including the PPA announced in April with NextEra Energy Resources for 100.8 MW of capacity from NextEra's Minco II Wind Energy Center under development in Oklahoma's Grady and Caddo counties.

It took guts to paint such a prominent target on the back of coal power, the number-one source of greenhouse gases in the world. Google was a pioneer in focusing so much on the Brayton engine design for CSP, but it was by no means alone in being optimistic—overly so, as it turned out—about the near-term potential for enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) technology. EGS made headlines in 2007-2008 because of an MIT report projecting that 100,000 MW of capacity could come online as EGS technology opened up vast new geothermal resources. Google deserves credit for taking such a bold risk-and for being willing to acknowledge that the challenge of "tak[ing] this [technology] research to the next level" was beyond the company's capabilities.

Silver MedalRenewable Funding (Oakland, Calif.) for quickly recovering from the nearly mortal blow delivered by Federal morgage agencies in July 2010 to the company's breakthrough idea for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the residential sector-property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing-and pushing ahead to help federal, state and local governments deploy similar models to ignite energy efficiency investment in the commercial building sector.

In January, 2011, Renewable Funding was selected to provide technology and finance administration services for Energy Upgrade California, a public-private collaboration to integrate state, local, and utility retrofit programs and services and provide a common platform for consumers, contractors, and program managers. As part of the program, the company is administering a loan loss reserve fund aimed at attracting private-sector lenders to the County of Los Angeles' Energy Upgrade California Program; in August it issued an RFP for lenders.

In October 2011, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced the GreenFinanceSF-Commercial program aimed at using PACE financing to support investments by commercial building owners in energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation. Renewable Funding is also one of the six financing partners stepping up to pledge at least $50 million to the Department of Energy's Better Buildings Challenge.