SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc. is converting its renowned headquarters to run partly on solar power, hoping to set an example for corporate America.
The Internet search leader announced what is believed to be the largest solar project undertaken by a U.S. company during a solar energy conference in Silicon Valley on Monday. Google believes the sun eventually can deliver as much as 30 percent of the power at its 1-million-square-foot campus in Mountain View - a suburb about 35 miles south of San Francisco.
The ambitious project will require installing more than 9,200 solar panels on a high-tech mecca nicknamed the "Googleplex." After leasing the offices for several years, Google bought the campus for $319 million earlier this year.
Once they're in place next spring, the solar panels are expected to produce about 1.6 megawatts of electricity, or enough power to supply about 1,000 homes.
The job is being handled by Pasadena-based EI Solutions, part of a high-tech incubator run by entrepreneur Bill Gross, whose idea to link ads to search engine requests during the 1990 inspired the business model that generates most of Google's profits.
Google wouldn't disclose the project's cost, but it won't strain a company with nearly $10 billion in cash.
The anticipated savings from future energy bills should enable Google to recoup the solar project's costs in five to 10 years, estimated David Radcliffe, the company's vice president of real estate.
"We hope corporate America is paying attention. We want to see a lot of copycats" of this project, Radcliffe said.
Energy costs are a major concern at Google, which already consumes a tremendous amount of power to run the computer farms that keep its search engine humming.
Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin also are big supporters of alternative energy. The billionaires began driving hybrid cars shortly after they hit the mass market. Page also is among the investors in Tesla Motors Inc., a Silicon Valley startup developing a sports car that runs on electricity.
Despite technological advances since the first photovoltaic cells were invented 50 years ago, solar power is still two to three times more expensive than fossil fuels in the U.S. and relies on government subsidies to compete.
The solar energy industry nevertheless is expected to grow from $11 billion in 2005 to $51 billion in 2015, estimated Clean Edge Inc., a market research firm.