There are two fascinating things about Google's recent moves. First, this is money for deployment. It's project finance, not R&D. Other big tech companies like LG and Samsung have announced massive investments in green tech research, but Google is putting money to get real projects off the ground. Second, this money comes from Google, Inc, not Google.org under the RE < C program. Google expects to make money on the big projects. I couldn't get any specifics out of Parag Chokshi, clean energy public affairs spokesperson, but it's clear this isn't a charity program: Unfortunately, we can't disclose the deal structure or potential returns for the investment.
But overall, we certainly see renewable energy as both good for the environment and a good business opportunity. These projects — Shepherds Flat and BrightSource's Ivanpah, among the others we've invested in — can have attractive returns given the risks involved. So the money for these investments comes out of Google Inc. and as you said, we expect to generate strong financial returns. It's also great way to diversity our cash holdings while investing in an area that we think is important to support.
Dallas Kachan, who heads the clean tech research and consulting firm Kachan and Co, said that Google could expect to get something like a six percent return on its investment, though that number could vary by project.