Google to reach 100% renewables in 2017 - Smart Energy Decisions

Energy Efficiency, Finance, Solar, Sourcing Renewables, Wind  -  December 6, 2016

Google will hit 100% renewables in 2017, calls the milestone 'just the beginning' in detailing new plans

An early mover among a growing number of corporations that have pledged to run their operations on 100% renewable energy, Google announced it will hit that goal in 2017.

The technology giant revealed the news Dec. 6 with a big nod to energy efficiency in helping the company reach its goal; Urs Hölzle, Google's senior vice president of technical infrastructure noted in making the announcement on the company's blog that its engineers  "have spent years perfecting Google's data centers, making them 50% more energy efficient than the industry average." 

Hölzle also outlined the long and often winding road Google traveled on its path to get here, which ultimately resulted in four primary purchasing tactics. Those tactics, along with a series of Google's lessons learned from seven years of renewable energy purchasing, are outlined in detail in a corresponding white paper Google just released, "Achieving Our 100% Purchasing Goal and Going Beyond."

"We were one of the first corporations to create large-scale, long-term contracts to buy renewable energy directly; we signed our first agreement to purchase all the electricity from a 114-megawatt wind farm in Iowa, in 2010," Hölzle wrote. "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." 

All that said, Hölzle called reaching this goal "just the first step." The ultimate goal, he said, is to "create a world where everyone — not just Google — has access to clean energy," suggesting that the company is planning to play a much more active role in the energy space broadly. The company already has its own energy unit, Google Energy LLC, and outlined in its white paper three ways in which the company will work toward a zero carbon electric grid:

  • Taking more of a regional approach to renewable energy procurement and working to maximize the amount of renewable energy we buy in regions where we operate;
  • Widening the technology lens to undertake projects and services that address the challenge of obtaining cost-effective clean energy on an hour-by-hour basis every day of the year;
  • Working to promote policies that empower energy consumers and accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy–powered electricity grids in a way that makes sense for all energy customers.

That last bullet point, in particular, speaks to the larger role some large energy users have begun to see for themselves in the broader energy world, particularly in shaping energy policies that would give more choice to commercial and industrial buyers. In Nevada, for example, data company Switch and Las Vegas Sands Corp. have been working with lawmakers on a plan to deregulate the state's electric market; an initial ballot initiative toward that goal was approved by voters Nov. 8.

Google elaborated in its white paper: 

"[M]aking retail and wholesale energy markets more nimble and customer-centric is critical to enabling any electricity customer who wants clean power to purchase it. This means evolving utility regulation and business models at the state and regional levels. Our experience has shown that energy markets that prioritize customer choice at the retail level and unlock cost-efficiencies through large, regional markets at the wholesale level are effective at rapidly scaling up clean energy while delivering many other benefits to consumers.

SED's take: Kudos to Google for the bold vision and action plan outlined in their white paper. The company is demonstrating both industry leadership and a firm corporate commitment to action. It is also reinforcing the important role that energy efficiency plays in any serious plan to achieve 100% renewable energy - John Failla 


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