Google engineers say renewable energy won’t solve climate change

Can climate change be solved with technologies like wind and solar energy?

No, it can’t, according to a new report by two Google engineers, published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The two engineers worked on an ambitious renewable energy project at Google called “RE<C” – but the project failed, and they now say that existing technologies like wind and solar are too costly to stave off climate change.

“At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope,” their report reads.

Skeptics say the Google Engineers’ paper illustrates that the promise of green energy has been overhyped.

“The promise of green technology is often so great that it becomes almost an emotional dream, yet engineers, who are tasked with making dreams a reality, often run into… reality. This is one of those cases,” Anthony Watts, whose climate site has covered the issue, told

The Google engineers note in their report that they reached their conclusion after modeling a best-case scenario in which the world switches to alternative energy as fast as possible.

“[We] modeled our most optimistic assumptions about cost reductions in solar power, wind power, energy storage, and electric vehicles… [but it] would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences,” they wrote.

A Google spokesman told that the paper simply says solar and wind won’t by themselves solve climate change, not that they were useless.

Additionally, he said that Google has invested $1.5 billion in solar, wind and other renewable energy.

“Renewable energy is a growing industry and critically important part of solving our future energy needs, particularly as its cost continues to decline. But we also need a multitude of approaches,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Other scientists critiqued the Google engineers’ paper, saying that solar and wind are more important than it makes them out to be.

"The authors… forget that the solution has many parts.  First, using energy more wisely can reduce the task by almost half… In addition, recent decreases in wind and solar costs are staggering,” Dr. John P. Abraham, a professor of thermal and fluid sciences at the University of St. Thomas, told

A report by the financial firm Lazard does find that the cost of wind and solar energy have been falling, and that in some parts of the country they can be price competitive with conventional fuels – even without subsidies.

But even if the price keeps falling, it would not be possible to replace all power generation with it, Lazard’s Head of North American Power & Utilities, Jonathan Mir, told

“Renewable resources are very important, but they are intermittent in nature, and conventional generation is what ensures that you always have power in the system. So they are complements, not substitutes,” he said.

The Google engineers’ takeaway from their finding was that America needs to spend more resources on researching “ideas that may seem crazy but might have huge impact.”

“Our society needs to fund scientists and engineers to propose and test new ideas, fail quickly, and share what they learn,” they wrote.

Others said that the Google engineers’ discovery shows that top-down government solutions to climate change are a bad idea.

“Throwing money at a problem often does little more than make the problem socialized. True innovation is what is needed, and that often comes from a few driven individuals with vision, rather than institutionalized science,” Watts said.

The author, Maxim Lott, can be reached on Facebook or at