Google Embraces the Energy Industry
Anyone who has looked at a computer screen in the last 10 years or so is well aware of the search engine behemoth that is Google. Controlling over 65% of the search engine sector, even their mission statement acknowledges their impact, stating they desire “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Based on their performance, it would be difficult to dispute their relevance in our day-to-day lives.
One thing you may not consider is how Google has been taking giant strides in the energy sector over the last few years. For those who may be unaware, Google is comprised of a series of marketing centers, research and development facilities and massive data centers to process the information within the search engine. The latter is the key when it comes to energy usage, as data centers are notorious for eating up remarkable amounts of megawatts through their computers and servers to maintain operations.
An article by the New York Times last year discussed how data centers are collectively responsible for the energy equivalent of 7-10 nuclear power plants running at full capacity every year. Furthermore, since servers are running at maximum capacity all day and night (despite web traffic), up to 90% of this energy is being wasted at certain times.
Data center designer Peter Gross expresses his views on the energy used by data centers, “[i]t’s staggering for most people, even people in the industry, to understand the numbers, the sheer size of these systems…a single data center can take more power than a medium-size town.”
Google’s outreach is as big as ever right now, with a total of 13 data centers worldwide by the end of the year. It would seem that there’s no sign of reducing their carbon footprint anytime soon, right?
Well not exactly.
Google has been investing in renewable energy projects since it first announced they would install over 9,000 solar panels, totaling a 1.6 megawatt capacity to assist in powering their company’s Mountain View, California headquarters in 2007. At the time, it was the largest solar-power system ever constructed at a US corporate campus.
They wouldn’t stop there, not by a long shot. December 2009 saw the launch of Google Energy, a subsidiary of Google designed to procure and distribute clean energy, primarily for its own facilities. Combining the efforts of Google Energy with past energy endeavors has led Google to purchase over 260 megawatts of wind energy and invest over a billion dollars into renewable energy projects. Their portfolio produces over 2 gigawatts of power, twice as much as the entire company used in 2011.
Rick Needham, director of energy and sustainability at Google, spoke about renewable energy during the Cleantech Forum taking place earlier this week in San Francisco. Not only does he justify such expenditures, but he explains how these projects are a measure of sensible business strategy, “[w]hile fossil-based prices are on a cost curve that goes up, renewable prices are on this march downward.”
As Needham alluded to, one perk that stems from taking advantage of wind contracts (and most wind energy in general) is how consistent the pricing will be for the length of the agreement. In Google’s case, they may be able to accurately predict what their energy will cost for the next twenty years through these contracts.
Needham also discussed other major ways Google works to minimize its carbon footprint. At the corporate headquarters, 240 electric vehicles for company staff have resulted in over 500,000 miles of energy efficient driving. Their company carpooling program also has over 4,500 employees, reducing carbon emissions by 16,000 tons every year. And, what is arguably their largest accomplishment, Google’s data centers typically use half the power of a conventional one through various energy efficiency means, saving the company over $1 billion in energy costs.
Hopefully this can become more of a rule than an exception for the industry. Apple, for one, has followed suit by announcing this week that they now run the largest US data center entirely on renewables. It just goes to show that in the case of energy reduction, too much is never enough for the sector.