Google Pledges 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy by 2030

Google on Monday pledged that by 2030 it will run its entire
business on carbon-free energy�— every hour of every day of the
year. The promise commits the tech giant to an even more aggressive
program of sourcing clean energy and enabling the infrastructure to
make it available even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind
isn’t blowing. 

Monday’s commitment
from Sundar Pichai
, CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet,
comes amid record-setting wildfires across the U.S. West driven by
increased heat and dry conditions linked to global warming from
human carbon emissions. “The science is clear: The world must act
now if we’re going to avert the worst consequences of climate
change,†Pichai wrote in the blog post. 

Google’s new commitment is distinct from the more typical
corporate commitments from rivals such as Amazon, Facebook and
Microsoft, and a growing number of companies, to offset their
carbon emissions from electricity by buying renewable energy
credits, investing in reforestation efforts, and other carbon
reduction strategies. 

Google has been carbon-neutral on those measures
since 2017
, and got 61 percent of its global hourly electricity
needs last year from wind, solar and other renewable sources.
It’s also shifted from buying power directly from existing wind
and solar farms to financing the construction of new renewables,
such as its 1,600
megawatts of wind and solar
 projects to be built in the U.S.,
Europe and Chile. 

But shifting to round-the-clock carbon-free energy will be
“our biggest sustainability moonshot yet, with enormous practical
and technical complexity,†Pichai wrote. “We are the first
major company that’s set out to do this, and we aim to be the first
to achieve it.†

Just how Google will achieve this, and how much it will cost,
remain open questions. Google addresses some of these technical
challenges in a new white
paper
, released Monday as an update to a 2018 “discussion
paper
†looking into potential for 24/7 carbon-free energy for
its data center fleet. It starts with collecting data on the carbon
intensity of the power supplied across different regions, and
calculating the resulting carbon footprints of different
facilities. 

An analysis of its 2019 electricity consumption indicates wide
gaps from location to location. Some data centers in wind
power-rich Midwestern states like Nebraska and Oklahoma got 96
percent of their power from carbon-free energy. Others in states
with a preponderance of fossil-fired generation achieved only 41
percent, as in Ohio and Virginia, or even lower rates of 24 percent
in Georgia and 19 percent in South Carolina. 

Google’s supply, demand and policy approach 

Google’s new white paper highlights the falling cost of
renewables compared to fossil-fired power, and Pichai noted that
the company’s work could “accelerate the availability of clean
energy in communities worldwide.†Google’s plans include adding 5
gigawatts of of new carbon-free energy across its key manufacturing
regions by 2030, spurring more than $5 billion in clean energy
investments, Pichai wrote.

Google has taken on clean energy policy efforts like becoming
member
of regional transmission
 organizations in the Midwest to press
its case for energy market policies that could advance its goals,
and pushing utilities in key markets to increase their carbon
reduction commitments. Virginia has since passed a
100 percent-by-2045 carbon-free
mandate for its utilities,
while Ohio is embroiled in
a bribery scandal
around a controversial utility nuclear and
coal power plant bailout bill. 

Pichai also said that Google is exploring “increasing our use
of battery storage†to capture excess clean energy for times when
it’s not available. Google’s white paper cited the improving
economics of batteries
 for meeting those goals, although it
doesn’t set out any specific energy storage goals. 

The white paper also highlights other technologies that could
help bridge the gap between renewable power’s inherent
intermittency and the consistent needs of its facilities, including
“advanced
nuclear
, enhanced geothermal, low-impact hydro, long-duration
storage
green
hydrogen
, and carbon capture and storage.†These are the same
list of technologies that utilities, states and countries with
zero-carbon commitments are planning to rely on to reach their
goals. 

On the demand side of the equation, Google has been
experimenting with shifting
computing loads
 at its data centers to match the availability
of carbon-free energy from the grids they’re connected to, and
plans to release research papers later this year detailing the
results. Its white paper also cited the demand-shifting
capabilities of Google Nest thermostats, which are
delivering megawatts
of load reduction
 for utilities
across the country
.

Google’s new commitment puts it ahead of other tech giants in
countering the pressure their increasing demand for electricity is
putting on carbon emissions, according to Elizabeth Jardim, USA
senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace, which tracks
corporate climate commitments
.

“Tech companies were some of the first to set renewable energy
goals, and even still, their energy-hungry data centers continued
to use huge amounts of fossil fuels, prolonging our collective
reliance on dirty energy any time we use the internet,†Jardim
wrote in a Monday statement. â€œBy becoming the
first major tech company to commit to power its data centers with
carbon-free energy around the clock, Google is setting a new
high-bar for the sector: a break-up with fossil fuels
altogether.†

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Google Pledges 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy by 2030