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Almost any family can make itself entirely reliant on clean, renewable energy using such simple steps as powering its home with solar panels and relying on an electric car for transportation. But things can be more complicated for a business, especially one as big as Google.
Yet Google says it’s making the effort. On Thursday the dominant internet company, based in Mountain View, Calif., announced that it will be doubling its use of renewable energy to power not only its electricity-hungry data centers, but also its offices and other assets as part of its plan to shed conventional energy entirely by 2025.
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The company said it has committed itself to powering its data centers by buying an additional 842 megawatts of clean energy, nearly 700 gigawatts of it from sources in the United States, including solar arrays in North Carolina and wind farms in Oklahoma. It also plans an additional 150 megawatts from a wind farm in Sweden and a solar plant in Chile.
Once all the deals are concluded, Google will be consuming more than 2 gigawatts of clean energy, and aims to use 3.6 gigawatts by 2025. It says it plans to have all its 14 data centers on four continents powered by renewable energy to ensure they operate cleanly as demand rises for the company’s internet search engine, its mapping function, its email host Gmail and its video service YouTube.
Besides providing wildly popular services, Google also has enormous quantities of money, which can go a long way toward encouraging other companies – including power utilities – to expand or even shift their emphasis on energy sourcing.
In this case, Google’s commitment to buy renewable energy from both old and new utilities has encouraged several of them to build new facilities that provide alternative power. They include Duke Energy of Charlotte, N.C.; France’s EDF; and the U.S. branch of the British company RES Group.
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So far, Google says it has spent about $2.5 billion in renewable energy to provide its operations with its current diet of 1.2 gigawatts of clean power. So far the company hasn’t said how much it plans to spend on the additional energy it plans to purchase.
In fact, Google has been careful about exactly when it disclosed any of this new initiative. Some of the contracts to buy the power were closed in November, but Google said it decided not to announce the deals until Thursday, once the U.N. climate conference had gotten under way in Paris.
“It’s an opportune time to make a strong statement,” said Gary Demasi, Google’s director of data center energy.
Another Google executive, Michael Terrell, the director of energy and infrastructure, said that while his company has a reputation as a leader in choosing renewable energy over fossil fuels, its green approach shouldn’t be viewed as the domain of high-tech companies alone.
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“We’re really trying to lead this transition to a cleaner energy economy,” Terrell told The New York Times. “It’s transforming anyone who touches the energy space. It’s not just about data centers or tech companies.”
Certainly tech companies are among the leaders in adopting renewable energy. For example, Apple Inc. invests in solar farms; Microsoft is powering its operations, at least in part, with wind energy. Amazon Web Services and Hewlett-Packard also have increased reliance on clean energy.
But the trend is broadening. Older institutions that for decades have relied on conventional energy are beginning to make the transition to clean energy. They include the Dow Chemical Co. and Kaiser Permanente in the United States and the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com