Monday, 12 December 2016

Google Approaching 100% Renewable Energy Target

For years, Google has been working on erasing its carbon footprint by powering more and more of its operations via renewable energy sources. Now it appears that the company is on the verge of reaching its 100% renewable energy target by sometime in 2017. Google is already the world's largest corporate buyer of renewable energy; it may soon become the biggest mega-corporation to be able to claim 100% renewable energy for all operations.

To be clear, reaching the 100% renewable energy goal does not mean all of Google's operations will literally be powered exclusively by green energy. Due to the complexity of power grids and energy production, that is just not possible at this time. What it does mean is that the amount of electricity Google purchases from green sources will be equal to the amount of power it consumes.

This is an important distinction to make given that the technology sector is now responsible for approximately 2% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Guardian. Furthermore, the world's data centres represent some of the single largest consumers of electricity. Aggressively pushing for more renewable energy use in technology is not only necessary but it is the right thing to do.

A Good Move for Business

Google established its 100% renewable energy target back in 2012. Google EU energy lead Marc Oman says it took the company five years to reach its goal because negotiating power purchase agreements is so complex. They have the size and resources to wade through the process while smaller companies may struggle to do so. This is why companies like Google and Amazon are leading the way in corporate renewable energy purchases.

Google purchased some 5.7 TW hours of green electricity in 2015. By contrast, all the renewable energy produced by solar panels in the UK that same year equalled about 7.6 TW hours. That tells you how much electricity Google is consuming between all its data centres and its US-based operations centre with 60,000 employees.

Despite the challenges of reaching their target, Oman says the decision to purchase 100% renewable power is a good business move for Google. He insists they are not merely greenwashing – giving the appearance of being environmentally responsible without actually taking steps to do so – but they are improving their own operations and profitability by concentrating on renewable energy.

Ironically, Google has also said that it would not rule out investing in nuclear power in the future. Such an investment would lead to the inevitable question of whether the company's claim of not greenwashing stacks up with an investment in a power source that does not meet the same green and renewable standards as wind and solar.

Only time will tell what happens to nuclear power. In the meantime, Google is closing in on its 100% renewable target. When the company actually achieves it, you can expect plenty of fanfare and self-promotion. And why not? When that day comes, Google will have achieved something it has been working on for quite some time.

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