Google to be ‘100% green-powered’ by end of 2017

Google will power its offices and data centers worldwide with 100 percent renewable energy by the end of next year, the company said Tuesday, in a move applauded by green-power experts.

The Mountain View tech titan still has a few brown spots in its energy-use profile, because it can’t get green energy at all times in all places, but has invested in renewable power-generation firms that create surpluses that offset conventional power it pulls from the grid.

“Today, we are the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable power, with commitments reaching 2.6 gigawatts (2,600 megawatts) of wind and solar energy,” Google senior vice president of technical infrastructure Urs Hölzle said in an online announcement. “That’s bigger than many large utilities.”

Google’s green-power achievements show that “there is a strong private-sector commitment to these technologies” and it “speaks to the cost-competitiveness of these technologies,” said Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at Berkeley Law.

Google said it has made its data centers 50 percent more energy-efficient than the industry average, “but we still need a lot of energy to process trillions of Google searches every year, play more than 400 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute, and power the products and services that our users depend on.”

The explosion of cloud computing, with its need for massive data storage, and the growth in internet traffic have helped make data centers one of the fastest-growing energy consumers in the developed world, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In 2013, data centers in the U.S. used power equivalent to the annual output of 34 big coal-powered power plants, according to the organization.

Google said its renewable-energy purchase agreements will lead to total investment in green energy of $3.5 billion globally, with about $2.3 billion of that in the U.S.

“What Google’s doing is great,” said UC Berkeley professor of energy Dan Kammen. “It’s a big deal. There’s no downside to it.”

Still, because Google can’t get 100 percent green power for all of its locations at all times — wind and solar power are dependent on weather — it has to buy some conventionally produced power off the grid. The firm offsets that use with surplus renewable energy generated by the projects it’s invested in.

And there remains the problem of “wheeling,” which occurs when one company, for example, goes fully green-powered, consuming the available renewables, while another firm, which may have been using some proportion of green power, then goes to full “brown” power from non-renewable sources, Kammen said. That issue can be addressed by government mandates on renewable energy use, he said.

“We need the market rules to catch up to what Google is doing,” Kammen said.

Google’s spending power and huge energy consumption put it in a favorable position to invest in green energy and move toward 100 percent renewable power, Elkind noted. But with the prices of solar and wind power plunging in recent years, going green is becoming easier for other firms, he said.

“As these technologies get cheaper and more distributed, people, especially large entities like big companies, can go out on their own and actually divorce themselves from the grid,” Elkind said. “That’s probably something we’re going to see more of in the future.”


Photo: Large wind turbines spin at an Altamont wind farm off Dyer Road near Livermore in 2015. Google signed an agreement to buy power from NextEra Energy’s Golden Hills Project that will help provide electricity to the Googleplex and the company’s data centers. The project will remove the old existing wind turbines to be replaced by 48 new and much larger wind turbines. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Geb

    Has to be a backup system generated by 100% reliable fossil fuels.