Internet and technology giant Google announced last week that it had successfully sourced over 100% of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources in 2017, meeting a goal the company set itself in December of 2016.
Back at the end of 2016, Google’s Senior Vice President for Technical Infrastructure, Urs Hölzle, announced that the company was planning to source 100% of the electricity needed to run its global operations from renewable energy sources. Specifically, Hölzle promised that Google would not only buy “enough wind and solar electricity annually to account for every unit of electricity our operations consume, globally,” but the company also intended to create “new energy from renewable energy sources,” meaning that it will “only buy from projects that are funded by our purchases.”
At the time, Google was the leading corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the US, Europe, and Mexico, and at the time had commitments of 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar energy.
Fast forward to the beginning of April, and Urs Hölzle again took to Google’s The Keyword blog to announce that the company had successfully sourced 100% of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources in 2017 through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). Hölzle explained that, “Over the course of 2017, across the globe, for every kilowatt hour of electricity we consumed, we purchased a kilowatt hour of renewable energy from a wind or solar farm that was built specifically for Google.”
“This makes us the first public Cloud, and company of our size, to have achieved this feat,” Hölzle claimed.
Google also maintains its position as the leading corporate purchaser of renewable energy, with 3 GW worth in 2017. Further, Google’s renewable energy contracts have resulted in over $3 billion in new capital investment around the world.
Of course, Google’s achievement is a lesson in semantics. It all comes down to Google’s promise to “match” its energy usage with renewable energy sources. Urs Hölzle himself is quick to explain in his blog post that “it’s not yet possible to ‘power’ a company of our scale by 100 percent renewable energy.” Rather, “for every kilowatt-hour of energy we consume, we add a matching kilowatt-hour of renewable energy to a power grid somewhere” Hölzle explained.
“What’s important to us is that we are adding new clean energy sources to the electrical system, and that we’re buying that renewable energy in the same amount as what we’re consuming, globally and on an annual basis.”
This doesn’t in any way undermine Google’s achievement or its commitment to renewable energy. Google’s method of sourcing renewable energy is having tangible benefits in regions around the world where investment may otherwise be lacking to support the development of renewable energy sources. And considering that Google is forever building new data centers and offices, it is also signing new PPAs to source ever more renewable energy to power its operations around the world. At the end of 2017, it was reported that Google had signed contracts that will add 536 megawatts (MW) worth of wind power to its energy portfolio.
But Google isn’t happy with simply purchasing renewable energy to match its electricity needs. The company is still moving towards actually powering all its operations with renewable energy sources, but that will take some time and a lot more investment dollars.