Google has reached its 100pc renewable energy purchase goal

4 Apr 2018

Inside a Google data centre in Dublin. Image: Google

Google says purchase of wind and solar energy exceeded the amount of electricity used by its vast tapestry of offices and data centres worldwide in 2017.

Google has achieved the 100pc renewable energy target that it committed to more than a year ago.

The internet giant’s senior vice-president of technical infrastructure, Urs Hölzle, said that total purchase of wind and solar energy exceeded the amount of electricity used by its operations worldwide in 2017.

‘We have contracts to purchase 3GW of output from renewable energy projects; no corporate purchaser buys more renewable energy than we do’

The search giant employs around 73,992 people worldwide, including an estimated 7,000 full-time and contract workers in Dublin. It also operates two major data centres in the capital.

Clouds powered by wind and sun

“A little over a year ago, we announced that we were on track to purchase enough renewable energy to match all the electricity we consumed over the next year,” Hölzle said.

“We just completed the accounting for Google’s 2017 energy use, and it’s official: we met our goal.”

By ‘matching’ renewable energy, Hölzle means that over the course of 2017, across the world, for every kilowatt hour of electricity consumed, Google purchased a kilowatt hour of renewable energy from a wind or solar farm built specifically for the company.

“This makes us the first public cloud, and company of our size, to have achieved this feat,” Hölzle said.

“Today, we have contracts to purchase three gigawatts (GW) of output from renewable energy projects; no corporate purchaser buys more renewable energy than we do. To date, our renewable energy contracts have led to over $3.5bn in new capital investment around the world.”

Hölzle said that every year, Google signs contracts for new renewable energy generation projects in markets where it has operations.

“From the time we sign a contract, it takes one to two years to build the wind farm or solar field before it begins producing energy. In 2016, our operational projects produced enough renewables to cover 57pc of the energy we used from global utilities.

“That same year, we signed a record number of new contracts for wind and solar developments that were still under construction. Those projects began operating in 2017, and that additional output of renewable energy was enough to cover more than 100pc of what we used during the whole year.”

Hölzle pointed to the distinction between matching and actually powering Google 100pc through renewable energy. “We say that we ‘matched’ our energy usage because it’s not yet possible to ‘power’ a company of our scale by 100pc renewable energy.

“It’s true that for every kilowatt hour of energy we consume, we add a matching kilowatt hour of renewable energy to a power grid somewhere. But that renewable energy may be produced in a different place, or at a different time, from where we’re running our data centres and offices.

“What’s important to us is that we are adding new clean energy sources to the electrical system, and that we’re buying that renewable energy in the same amount as what we’re consuming, globally and on an annual basis.”

He said that as Google builds new data centres and offices, demand for electricity logically increases.

As such, the internet giant is working with groups such as the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance and Re-Source Platform to facilitate greater access to renewably sourced energy.

“We need to be constantly adding renewables to our portfolio to keep up. So, we’ll keep signing contracts to buy more renewable energy. And, in those regions where we can’t yet buy renewables, we’ll keep working on ways to help open the market.”

The methodology could prove quite interesting to players such as ESB, which last week acquired a stake in a wind farm off the coast of the UK in order to acquire expertise to build more wind farms off the Irish coast in the years to come.

Last year, Energia opened Ireland’s largest wind farm, a 95MW colossus at Meenadreen, Co Donegal, as part of a €145m investment.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years