Why Google Is Investing $168M in a Giant Solar Farm

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"Every indication is that by 2013, the solar industry will be booming. The only thing that can stop Google now? Turtles."

We had a feeling that BrightSource Energy was destined for big things when Google first announced it was investing $10 million in the solar thermal startup in 2008. So it's not all that surprising to learn that BrightSource just finalized $1.6 billion in loans from the U.S Department of Energy as well as a $168 million investment from Google--all to build the world's largest solar project.

When completed in 2013, the Mojave Desert-based Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will send approximately 2,600 megawatts of power to the grid, doubling the amount of solar thermal power produced in the U.S and generating enough electricity to power 140,000 California homes when operating at full capacity.

This won't be a set of photovoltaic panels like you might see on you're neighbor's roof; the solar themal system consists of thousands of mirrors that reflect sunlight onto a water-filled boiler, creating steam that spins a turbine and generates electricity. It's cheaper than conventional solar panels, but just as reliable. The Ivanpah system goes one step further by converting steam back into water, allowing it to use 95% less water than other solar thermal systems.

It's the kind of creative stuff that Google laps up like catnip.

But what does Google get out of it? This isn't just a donation. BrightSource already has a deal in place to sell the energy created at Ivanpah to PG&E. Every indication is that by 2013, the solar industry will be booming, and Google will be making a pretty penny on those clean watts.

But wait! There is one thing that could stop them: turtles. BrightSource has already been forced to scale back the project due to concerns about the safety of endangered desert tortoises in the area.

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