Building on its previous goal of matching its energy use with 100 per cent renewable energy, Google aims to power its data centers and offices 24×7 using solely carbon-free electricity by 2030. The “stretch goal,” as CEO Sundar Pichai described it, will force Google to move beyond the tech industry norm of offsetting carbon emissions from electricity use and require technological and political breakthroughs to achieve.
Google has been carbon-neutral on those measures since 2007 and has since shifted from buying power directly from existing wind and solar farms to financing the construction of new renewables, such as its 1,600 MW worth of wind and solar projects to be built in the US, Europe and Chile. It reached its 100 per cent renewable energy goal in 2017, and last year got 61 per cent of its global hourly electricity needs from wind, solar and other carbon-free sources. The proportion varied by facility, with carbon-free sources fulfilling 96 per cent of hourly power needs at Google’s wind-swept Oklahoma data center compared with 3 per cent at its gas-reliant Singapore operation. But shifting to round-the-clock carbon-free energy will be “our biggest sustainability moonshot yet, with enormous practical and technical complexity,” Pichai said. “We are the first major company that’s set out to do this, and we aim to be the first to achieve it.”
The company’s new goals include bringing 5 GW of renewable energy near some suppliers, funding tree planting beyond its offset needs and sharing data or forging partnerships with 500 governments around the world to try to cut 1 gigaton of carbon emissions annually by 2030. Google said it would continue to offset carbon emissions unrelated to electricity use, such as from employee travel.
Its carbon-free electricity goal satisfies one demand of 2,000 Google employees who last November petitioned the company to stop selling data storage and other cloud computing tools to oil companies and funding think tanks or politicians who deny the existence of climate change. Pichai has stated that the company would continue to “support everyone” with its cloud services and help oil and gas companies transition to tapping other sources.
Meanwhile, a new white paper by Google 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 separately plans to build 5 GW of new carbon-free energy across its key manufacturing regions by 2030, spurring more than $5 billion in clean-energy investments, Pichai wrote. Pichai also said that Google is exploring “increasing our use of battery storage” to capture excess clean energy for times when it is not being produced. Google’s white paper cited the improving economics of batteries for meeting those goals, although it does not set out any specific energy storage goals.
REGlobal’s Views: Funding the development of local clean energy sources to power its facilities is not new, and most major tech companies (like Amazon and Microsoft) with a clean energy agenda pursue it. But Google’s specific target of making all of its power sources carbon-free by 2030 provides a fixed deadline for an unprecedented goal for a company of its size and influence.