Google’s Eric Schmidt Details Energy Plan, Chides Lack of Leadership

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, along with Google’s energy gurus Dan Reicher and Bill Weihl, have so far served as the search giant’s most outspoken representatives of its plans to create new energy solutions. But at a dinner for the Corporate EcoForum on Monday night, Google CEO Eric Schmidt outlined a plan to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil, fight climate change and create green jobs. And Schmidt took direct aim at world leaders, contending: “We have a total failure of political leadership, at least in the U.S., and perhaps the world.”

In his speech, Schmidt called for 100 percent of U.S. power generation to come from green power in about 20 years, as well as the replacement of half of the nation’s traditional cars with plug-in hybrids. Cleaning up the power grid would lead to the creation of 500,000 jobs in wind alone, Schmidt claimed; his plan would also allegedly reduce emissions by half.

Schmidt also spoke at length about the antiquated power grid: “We’ve got to solve the grid problem,” he said, noting that 9 percent of efficiency is lost in the current architecture. And like most infotech titans, he called for integrating technologies borne out of the Internet revolution to the grid; sophisticated routing, switching and networking technologies didn’t yet exist when the grid was built. The opportunity to remake the grid is not unlike the opportunities of the Internet and the PC, he said.

Schmidt was most passionate, however, when he chided political leadership for a failure to act. There is a lack of understanding about how technology can change the dialogue, he said. The government is about to pass a massive stimulus package, so instead of randomly handing out cash to the all the usual suspects, “Why not retool the energy infrastructure in the U.S?”

When we asked Schmidt if, given his concern over a lack of leadership, he was looking to either of the presidential candidates’ energy solutions as a better option, he declined to back one candidate over the other. He said simply that he would urge politicians to stop looking at the near-term energy options and look instead at the bigger energy picture.

Schmidt’s speech reminded us of a more business-savvy amalgamation of the calls for action put out by former Vice-President Al Gore and former Intel (s intl) Chairman Andy Grove. Gore has called for 100 percent of electricity to come from clean power, but in a decade — roughly half the timeline that Schmidt laid out. But Gore in that latest speech, didn’t really address the issue of transportation. Grove, meanwhile, has called for 10 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the roads in four years — somewhat different than Schmidt’s vision — but has been similarly vocal about the need to recreate the PC- and Internet-type revolutions for energy, noting, in particular, that the aftermarket for plug-in conversions is not unlike that of PC hobbyists back in the day.

Schmidt distinguished himself from those two by urging corporate America to view energy efficiency as an opportunity to reduce costs and increase return on investment. Google has create a scorecard to help boost energy efficiency, particularly in buildings — it was easy to do and saved the company money, he stressed.

So far Google has been by far the most committed company in the Internet sector to investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green transportation. The search engine giant has committed to hundreds of millions of dollars for research and investment into clean power, including recent investments in wind, enhanced geothermal and plug-in vehicle startups.

Google has even recently patented a floating wave-powered data center as a way to both get data centers closer to users while utilizing clean power. Schmidt said he thought putting data centers on floating barges was a clever idea, adding with a shrug, “You never know.”