Google pumps $280 million into solar panel firm

Advertising giant Google has announced its biggest investment in green energy provision yet: a $280 million fund to get solar panels on as many rooftops as it possibly can.

The company has teamed up with SolarCity, a US-based company which offers to install and maintain solar panels on customers' rooftops for no initial fee. It recoups its costs by charging a 'solar lease' fee, which it claims is significantly less than the savings made through the solar panels' contribution to the running costs of a home.

SolarCity is hardly unique in offering such a service: here in the UK there are dozens of companies that will happily fit solar panels on roofs free of charge in exchange for taking the annual grant offered by the government for solar panel installations. Now, however, SolarCity has something its competitors do not: a large pot of cash, courtesy Google.

"Imagine sitting on your patio watching the sun’s rays pass overhead, knowing that they power your home with clean energy, at a cost that’s less that what you would have paid using just the grid," said Google's director of green business operations Rick Needham during the announcement, "That’s what my colleague, engineer Michael Flaster, has been doing at his home in California since March of this year.

"Today, we’re announcing that we’ve investing $280 million to create a fund that will help SolarCity finance more solar installations across the country. This is our largest clean energy project investment to date and brings our total invested in the clean energy sector to more than $680 million."

As well as providing the cash backing needed to fund further installations, Google has entered into a deal with SolarCity that will see the company's employees able to take advantage of SolarCity installation at a substantial discount.

"We believe the world needs a wide range of clean energy options in the future, each serving different needs," Needham claimed. "We've already invested in several large-scale renewable energy projects, so we’re excited that this new partnership with SolarCity helps people power their homes directly with solar energy, too. We think 'distributed' renewable energy - generated and used right at home - is a smart way to use solar photovoltaic technology to improve our power system since it helps avoid or alleviate distribution constraints on the traditional electricity grid."