Corporate world switches on to wind

Internet giant Google is in need of some good publicity. Reports of its involvement in the US government's Prism surveillance programme, awkward questions about its international tax obligations and a growing public perception that the corporate colossus pays little attention to the concerns of its users could overshadow all else.

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Yet here, in the wind-energy business press, the talk around Google is focused on its continued investment and involvement in wind power, a much more positive story.

Earlier this month, the company's innovations research subsidiary Google X completed purchase of kite-robotics wind technology developer Makani. Google X had previously invested some $15 million in the business as part of its "renewable energy cheaper than coal" programme, and the takeover follows the death last year of Makani's founder and design team leader. The Airborne Wind Turbine may be a wind energy future, but it is early days for this technology, with more research to be done.

Our other Google coverage concerns its involvement in the progress of a new electricity tariff for renewables, which could have a much more immediate benefit for the industry. Earlier this year, it put in a request to a utility in the US state of North Carolina to provide a simple route to enable it to buy 100% renewable energy, paying a higher rate for the power and driving new renewables build.

Google says that the availability of green power will be a critical factor in its choice of locations for new, energy-intensive data warehouses. It has already bought into wind farms in Iowa and Texas, but it is seeking a simpler solution here. And, of course, Google still wants to be able to point to such projects and say that it "made that happen".

Last year Bloomberg and Vestas' Global Corporate Renewable Energy Index reported a large increase in businesses committing to renewable energy through investment in onsite generation - highlighting that wind turbines are a particularly visible sign to customers of a commitment to the environment. It reported that being seen to be green helps businesses stand out from their competitors, drive sales, please shareholders and retain staff.

Whether or not Google is merely delivering a PR strategy, it is driving forward a new wind agenda. It is pushing and promoting a growing interest from corporations seeking to find a simple route to renewable energy - a route that should allow businesses to sign up to a long-term energy price from a carbon-tax-free resource.

Google's deal with Duke Energy is not the first to be proposed in the US. There are other utilities in other states looking into similar deals. Offering green tariffs to major power users that ties them into renewable-energy purchases at set prices, should in turn drive the construction of new wind-power projects.

Now is the time for the wind industry to help deliver these resources, appreciate the PR game and get the message across: to get more businesses wanting a renewable-energy source that should give them a more stable price for some years.

Find yourself

Last month also saw the launch of our new online directory. Fully searchable by category, keyword or name, it lists more than 4,500 suppliers to the wind industry. Go online to check your business is listed —

Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly

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