Google’s Energy Foray: What’s Up?

Companies like Google and Facebook capitalize on the power of user data, scouring our e-mail messages and profiles for keywords that can result in lucrative targeted advertising.

Google is explicit about its mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Now it is laying out plans to become a leader in capturing, owning, tracking and trading energy. Recently the company announced a $38.8 million investment in two wind farm projects in North Dakota, as our friends at Dealbook noted.

The project is being led by NextEra, one of the nation’s largest owners of wind farms.

Google also won federal approval in February to buy and sell electricity on American electricity markets. And the company offers tools for measuring the electricity consumption of home appliances through partnerships with companies like General Electric.

“Smart capital includes not only these early stage company investments but also dedicated funding for utility-scale projects,” said Rick Needham, Google’s green business and operations manager. “To tackle this need, we’ve been looking at investments in renewable energy projects.

He said that ventures like the wind farms, beyond speeding the deployment of clean energy technology, could provide “attractive returns” and “more capital for developers to build additional projects.”

Connect the dots, and Google is up to something, said Tim Stephure, an analyst at IHS Emerging Energy Research, a market research firm in Cambridge, Mass. “They are increasingly trying to be a bigger player in this space,” he said.

But how these energy investments will fit into the company’s broader mission to use data is hard to say. “It is difficult to see what their intentions are,” Mr. Stephure said.

It’s possible that greater access to data on consumer energy usage could prove as valuable as the keywords in Gmail or in Google search are in matching advertisers.

By SINDYA N. BHANOO/NYT

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