Google’s mission is to make information easily accessible to the masses. But its goal is also to run its operations entirely on renewable energy. More specifically, it is committed to purchasing enough green electricity to match its energy usage — a goal it hit in 2017. With operations all over the world, it is a daunting task.
Since 2007, Google has pledged to pursue carbon neutrality — a goal it hit in 2010. According to the We Mean Business Coalition, Google has a three-pronged strategy: energy efficiency, renewable energy procurement, and, when necessary, carbon offsets. Indeed, power purchase agreements, or long-term contracts from renewable energy producers, are critical: Google has signed contracts to procure at least 3,000 megawatts across 26 projects and three continents. That’s a $3.5 billion investment. In Europe, it has spent more than $1 billion.
The most complex challenge is to power its operations with clean energy. That’s because data collection is a quickly evolving business. So is the renewable energy industry, which has seen the price of wind and solar technologies nosedive.
What’s its strategy?
According to We Mean Business, it will focus on a regional approach. That means buying renewable energy in “favorable markets” — enough to offset the deficit in those places where such a tact is impossible. Google will also pursue new technologies that advance the clean energy mission — ones that run 24/7. To that end, it will invest in onsite green energy, battery storage, and microgrids. And finally, Google will advocate for public policies that encourage the growth of green energy and carbon neutrality.
“The road to 24-7 clean energy may not be entirely clear to us today, but we’re ok with that,” says Mars Hanna, leader of global energy policies at Google. “At Google, we believe in setting our sights on a moonshot goal, even if we don’t know quite how to achieve it yet. We’re committed to working towards 24-7 clean energy for our global electricity supply portfolio and to help drive the transition of\the entire electric grid to a clean energy future.”
BloombergNEF said in its 2021 Corporate Energy Market Outlook that more than 130 companies in sectors ranging from oil & gas to big tech inked clean energy deals. The companies it tracks bought 23.7 gigawatts of clean energy.
The global leaders in 2020 were Amazon, Google, and Facebook. And so was the forward-thinking French oil giant, Total. Bloomberg also praised Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and U.S. telecom Verizon.
Companies are going green because it makes economic sense to do so. It is also good for their brands. But there is more they can do. The Principles for Responsible Investment, which manages $86 trillion in assets, wants the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to force companies to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris climate agreement. The investors are saying that the markets will reward businesses.
In 2020, Google again matched 100% of its global electricity use with purchases of renewable energy — a goal it first hit in 2017. In a blog, Google says that it signed agreements to buy power from more than 50 renewable energy projects, with a combined capacity of 5.5 gigawatts – about the same as a million solar rooftops.
“The path to 100% starts with reducing the amount of energy we use in the first place,” the blog says. “Researchers recently found that worldwide data center electricity stayed close to flat in the last decade, even as computing needs grew 550 percent. And Google has led this trend: compared with five years ago, we now deliver around seven times as much computing power with the same amount of electrical power.”
It also built or bought into renewable energy projects worldwide:
- Google’s first offshore wind project in the North Sea started delivering power to its Belgium data center;
- It began purchasing electricity from a solar farm in Chile. It is a power purchase agreement from a new solar farm in the Antofagasta region. The goal is to match its growing load in South America;
- It deployed solar panels across hundreds of public housing rooftops in Singapore to deliver power, and
- It rolled out large-scale solar and wind projects to boost Oklahoma, Alabama, and Virginia data centers.
“Our carbon-free energy portfolio will produce more electricity than places like Washington D.C. or entire countries like Lithuania or Uruguay use each year,” says Sundar Pichai, chief executive.
Google is not resting. The next thrust will be to run entirely on carbon-free energy everywhere it operates. In other words, carbon offsets have worked. So has overbuying renewable energy where it is abundant to compensate for places where it is not. By 2030, though, the goal is to go green every day.