Google to purchase only renewable energy for operations in 2017

Tuesday 06 December 2016

Google plans to buy enough renewable energy next year to match the entire needs of all its data centres and offices around the world, in one of the biggest gestures by a private company to combat climate change.

The internet company said the commitment would confirm it as “the largest corporate renewable energy buyer on the planet” and mark a breakthrough in the mainstream use of solar and wind power — though limitations on delivering the electricity to where it is needed mean the company still will not be able to run all its facilities directly off renewable power.

Google’s promise is the most dramatic yet from a tech company, as the industry races to mitigate the impact of its power-hungry data centres. The company’s own power use has soared in recent years: it said it now has 2,600 megawatts of renewable electricity generating capacity under contract, 10 times the amount of power it said it needed in 2010 to power its data centres, its biggest consumer of electricity.

In 2015, the company used 5.6 terawatt hours of energy — enough, by its own calculations, to power the entire city of San Francisco for the year.

Google began buying renewable power under long-term supply contracts in 2010, and by 2015 had enough agreements in place to match 44 per cent of its energy demand. The jump to 100 per cent next year followed a realisation inside the company that falling prices and greater availability had shown a breakthrough was within reach, said Neha Palmer, head of energy strategy for Google’s infrastructure.

However, despite the purchase commitment, many of Google’s own offices and data centres will still depend on carbon-based power to function, at least for the time being. Facilities that are attached to power grids run by monopoly utilities are constrained by the types of power that flows over those grids, in some cases making it impossible to tap sun or wind power.

That has forced Google to resort to a number of different arrangements to buy renewable power. In some regions, such as Scandinavia, it has been able to contract directly with wind farms that feed power into grids to which its facilities are connected. In other areas, it has bought renewable power and then resold it to grid operators.

The recent jump in renewable power agreements follows rapid price falls that had made sun and wind power “the lowest cost option in many markets”, said Ms Palmer. Supply contracts for renewables that last from 10 to 20 years also make this a more reliable source of power over the long term, she added.

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