Corporate America has discovered solar energy. Is it a fad or the start of a fundamental shift toward renewable energy? Associate Editor Sandra Upson explores the intricacies of big companies going solar in ”The Greening of Google,” in this issue.

Google garnered frenzied media attention in June when it fired up 9000-plus polysilicon panels mounted on rooftops at its complex in Mountain View, Calif. (check out the Google Solar Panel Project monitor at solarpanels/home to see a real-time tally of their output). When fully operational, the panels will be able to generate 1.6 megawatts of electricity, about 30 percent of the total needed to run the buildings they sit on at the headquarters, known as the Googleplex. The company is also using solar power to charge a fleet of hybrid electric vehicles to promote the development and use of plug-in hybrids. And it plans to generate an additional 50 MW of renewable energy by 2012. Google can take such steps more easily than many other companies because it is flush with cash and doesn’t need an immediate return on its investment, and because California subsidizes solar investments more than any other U.S. state.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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