We must quickly develop low-cost renewable and efficient energy technology to avoid the devastating effects of climate change. This requires a strong financial commitment to clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to achieve big breakthroughs.
Historically such funding has been anemic. After a peak in 1978 of $7 billion, U.S. government funding for energy RD&D dropped by more than 70%. Corporate RD&D fell even more, and funding in the early 2000s totaled just 0.3% of sector revenue, compared to 15% in the biotech sector. Is it any wonder the energy sector has struggled to make progress?
Google's most important goal in this area is the development of renewable power that's cheaper than coal--even without accounting for the externalities associated with substantially altering the CO2 content of the atmosphere. Such technology is the holy grail of the green movement. Once developed, it would quickly make all economic objections to phasing out coal as an energy source moot. So let's all hope Google (or someone else) is successful in inventing such technology. Doing so in the only path I can see that will allow us to maintain and even surpass current levels of prosperity.
Google is also trying to keep people focused on smart-grid technology:
Just one week after launching Google's energy information campaign, we kicked off our first joint smart grid event with GE, a larger clean energy collaboration we announced last fall. Our timing was fortuitous; the event took place just as President Obama signed an historic economic stimulus bill that includes $11 billion to modernize the electricity grid.
Also, Climate Progress has a great post up about how large of a reduction of CO2 emissions can be accomplished with currently scalable ("shovel-ready," if you will) technology.