The renewable energy world was abuzz last week with news that Google has just nailed down an exclusive agreement with a Swedish wind farm developer to provide its Finnish data center with wind power for the next ten years, from the new Maevaara wind farm to be built in Sweden. That will be Google’s first ever long-term renewable energy agreement in Europe and it’s also a milestone for the wind turbine company Nordex, which will get a chance to show off its new line of N117/3000 turbines in their first large-scale project. So, what kind of bang is Google getting for its buck?
Google Wind Power Grows In Sweden
The Maevaara wind farm developer is Sweden-based O2, which already has about 500 wind turbines in Sweden under its belt. The new wind farm will be located near the town of Pjala, hard by the border with Finland. It is due for completion in 2014 and will consist of 24 3-megawatt wind turbines for a total of 72 megawatts.
O2 tapped the well-established wind turbine company Nordex to provide the turbines. For the Maevaara wind farm project, Nordex will deploy its “Generation Delta” N117/3000 wind turbine, which it introduced earlier this year.
The N117/3000 is designed to operate with maximum efficiency under medium (IEC-2) wind speeds, thanks in part to its high tower. According to Nordex its output is about 20 percent more than a preceding model, with part of the improvement coming from a rotor surface that is about 37 percent greater than that of its predecessor.
Aside from demonstrating the ability of cost-effective wind power to expand into less than optimal wind regions, the N117/3000 is further evidence that cold climate wind power is here to stay, especially considering that the Maevaara wind farm is located about 100 kilometers north of the Polar Circle.
The N117/3000 series includes an anti-icing system and is designed to operate efficiently at temperatures down to the -20 degrees Celsius range, and it includes optional design elements that enable that range to drop down into -30 degree territory.
The Race For Renewable Energy
The platform for the Google Finnish data center wind power deal is Nord Pool, in which customers throughout Scandinavia can buy “Guarantee of Origin” certificates for renewable energy. With the certificates in hand from the wind farm in Sweden, the Google Finnish data center can consume an equivalent amount of energy from other sources and still claim credit for purchasing wind power.
Google has already snapped up the entire output for the wind farm, which brings up an interesting point about renewable energy.
High profile companies like Google are in hot competition for bragging rights on sustainable energy issues, and they are also racing to get their hands on local and regional alternative energy rights as a buffer against future price shocks in the fossil fuel market to keep their energy-sucking data centers humming along.
In that context it’s worth noting that renewable energy is exactly that: renewable, not infinite, at least not on a local or regional level. There is only so much prime land in one area available for wind farms and solar arrays, and when you get into site-specific symbiotic operations like landfill gas or biogas from livestock operations (which is another area of interest to Google, btw), there’s even more of a squeeze.
Google seems intent on beating its way to the front of the pack. Last year, for example, the company bought up a whopping 48 megawatts of wind power for its Oklahoma data center, in order to cut its reliance on a grid mix that included about 50 percent coal.
That followed a string of major renewable energy purchases by Google, which by 2011 included a $100 million investment in the massive 845 megawatt Caithness Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Oregon and a 37.5 percent stake in the initial development of the Atlantic Coast’s Offshore Wind Superhighway.