Google may take lead in solar tech

One would expect advances in solar technology to come from established solar energy companies like First Solar (FSLR). But Google's (GOOG) green initiative may outpace the major industry leaders by creating much more efficient technology.

The head of Google's alternative energy operations, Bill Weihl, told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit that, "We've been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors, both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on." Google's work could cut the cost of the fields of mirrors that track the sun.

The Google comments left unanswered whether it will share its technology with other companies or make it available for license. If it keeps it for itself, Google could become a competitive threat to the rest of the industry and end up putting some struggling solar companies into tough financial positions by hurting their sales and offering products with much better margins.

Google's core business has nothing to do with alternative energy, but investors have criticized the company for focusing too narrowly on the search business. No one can say for certain whether Google intends to become a major force in the sales and marketing of powerful new solar technologies, or just an R&D operation that could help the overall industry to develop better solar collection facilities.

Given Google's balance sheet and its huge capacity to fund new businesses, the rest of the solar power industry should be more than a little nervous.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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