In late 2007, less than 10 years into the company’s existence, Google came out swinging on the clean energy front. To a fanfare of plaudits up and down Silicon Valley and well beyond, it declared “RE<C” as its goal: make renewable energy cheaper than coal. The company invested tens of millions of dollars into R&D efforts from concentrated solar power to hydrothermal drilling. Four years later, those efforts had been scrapped.
It would be all too easy to see this as an admission of failure—big tech playing in an arena it knew nothing about, with the hubris that Silicon Valley is known for. But something else was going on. Google’s shift in strategy was a reflection of the growing success of the solar sector. Google realized its energies were better directed toward massively scaling up existing renewable technologies that had plummeted in price, rather than inventing new ones.