Hoping to jump-start innovation in "sustainable transportation," Google.org – the search giant’s philanthropic arm – today issued a $10 million request for proposals for projects that will promote the commercialization of plug-in hybrid vehicles, electric cars and vehicle-to-grid technology. "We plan to invest amounts ranging from $500,000 to $2,000,000 in selected for-profit companies," said Google.org. "While $10 million is a fraction of the total investment needed to transform our transportation sector, we hope this RFP will help catalyze a broader response. We need the automakers to bring these cars to market, but plug-in vehicles also need an entire ecosystem of companies flourish." The grants are part of Google.org’s (GOOG) RechargeIt.org initiative. In June, the company unveiled a solar-powered parking bay and recharging stations it created with utility PG&E (PCG) where workers can juice up a fleet of plug-in hybrid cars that Google is creating for an employee car-sharing service. Google is also testing several plug-in Toyota Priuses (TM) to assess their potential to serve as mobile generators, transferring electricity back to the grid from their batteries during times of peak demand.
That’s good for the environment and a weapon in the fight against global warming. But it also could be a big business opportunity for Google if plug-in vehicles and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) become common. Imagine the data and network management infrastructure needed to figure out where millions of cars are plugged in at any given moment, determining the power level of their batteries, and matching that with the demands of the power grid. Green Wombat happened to be at the Googleplex on Saturday and asked Dan Reicher, Google.org’s director of climate and energy initiatives, about whether the company has a role to play in V2G. "It’s clearly a data management challenge and there are things we can do, but it’s unclear if it’s a big business opportunity," he said.
What Google is doing now is collecting data on the performance of plug-in hybrid Priuses. On Saturday, Reicher showed the latest additions to Google’s plug-in fleet. Since may, hundreds of Google employees have been using the modified Priuses to run errands and as they tool around Silicon Valley black boxes installed in the cars record data on the driving conditions, fuel efficiency and other factors.