Date: 8 December 2016 13:34
Google has made a bold announcement. In a statement posted on its own blog, it says it will run completely on renewable energy as soon as 2017.
It’s an astonishing claim, considering the sheer volume of data it processes every second. Google has not publicly disclosed exactly how much data that is, but if we consider 40,000 Google searches occur every second, and 400 hours of YouTube videos are uploaded every minute, we start to get an impression of the boggling scale of the processing power the tech giant needs to operate every day.
Google has been investing in renewable energy for years, clarifying in a blogpost today that this helps in the battle against climate change, but also “makes business sense”. By next year, Google’s vast data centres across the US, Chile, Taiwan, Singapore, Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland and Belgium will all be run 100 per cent on renewable energy, as well as all of its global offices. In real terms, however, “reaching 100 per cent renewable energy” does not mean solar and wind power is directly powering every element of the Google machine. It means that, annually, Google is purchasing as much renewable energy as it is using electricity. This sounds significantly less exciting, but is nonetheless a big step.
“We signed our first agreement to purchase all the electricity from a 114-megawatt wind farm in Iowa, in 2010. 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. That’s bigger than many large utilities and more than twice as much as the 1.21 gigawatts it took to send Marty McFly back to the future.”
This is still not enough power to send us back to a time when Donald Trump had not promised to chuck out any pledge the US had made to protect the environment and battle climate change (including the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement). But it’s a stellar example of what can be achieved by big business in terms of setting a global example.
Once again, appealing to the business acumen of the cynics out there, Google points to the recent dramatic drops in the price of wind and solar power: “Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centres, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy.”
Its own infrastructure investments in renewable energy amount to $3.5 billion globally, it says. “These projects also generate tens of millions of dollars per year in revenue to local property owners, and tens of millions more to local and national governments in tax revenue.” The blog could almost be written for US president-elect Trump, who has been scathing about wind farms and once claimed climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese - though many believe the future of renewables in the US will be protected and that the serial backtracker will, inevitably, backtrack on this stance.
Google also says it wants to invest more in the areas where its data centres and biggest HQs reside, by making “regional renewable energy purchases”.
“Since the wind doesn’t blow 24 hours a day, we’ll also broaden our purchases to a variety of energy sources that can enable renewable power, every hour of every day. Our ultimate goal is to create a world where everyone — not just Google — has access to clean energy.”
“The science tells us that tackling climate change is an urgent global priority. We believe the private sector, in partnership with policy leaders, must take bold steps and that we can do so in a way that leads to growth and opportunity. And we have a responsibility to do so — to our users and the environment.”