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BOB MOON: If you're interested in the latest company getting into the renewable energy business -- try Google. No need to search for it. The company we're talking about is Google. Today, the Web giant announced plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in green energy projects.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


SAM EATON: Google plans to produce enough electricity from renewable energy sources to power a city the size of San Francisco, and to do it at a cost cheaper than coal. The company is hiring scores of engineers to research non-polluting energy sources. It says it will initially focus on solar thermal mirrors that use the sun's heat to drive electricity generating turbines. Google's philanthropic arm will invest tens of millions of dollars in seed money for the project next year, but Yale green business expert Daniel Esty says Google's ultimate goal is more than altruistic. It's about profits.

DANIEL ESTY: This is a example of a new kind of philanthropy, and a new kind of sort of company investing off the side of its core business, but in a way that might deliver big returns.

Esty says Google's Achilles' heel is the massive amount of electricity required to power its servers. And as global warming casts coal's future in an uncertain light, Esty says Google is hedging its bets. And he says they have the cash to back it up. But some are more skeptical.

ROB ENDERLE: This is really solid image work.

Technology analyst Rob Enderle says Google's successes are creating enemies as its size and power rivals even Microsoft's.

ENDERLE: I think they realize that if they don't step out and become aggressive on something that people care about in a positive fashion, that they're likely to be painted with that same kind of broad negative brush.

The challenge, Enderle says, is for Google not to overstep its expertise in the process. He says ultimately Google is a web services company, not an energy giant.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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