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Google to achieve 100% renewable energy in 2017

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Google co-owns the 377MW concentrated solar thermal Ivanpah facility in California. Image: Google.

Technology giant Google has said it will be powering all of its operations with renewable energy by next year, and has committed to taking its pledges even further by supporting new technologies in the coming years.

In a blog post published yesterday Urs Hölzle, senior vice president for technical infrastructure at Google, confirmed that the company’s involvement in renewables will increase to such an extent next year that it will be able to power all of its offices and data centres with the amount of renewable energy it purchases.

And Hölzle also hinted at Google extending its support to include additional technologies “that can enable renewable power, every hour of every day”. While it was not mentioned explicitly, Hölzle’s comments could be seen as alluding to possible investment in energy storage assets which can be partnered with renewable generators.

Google currently has commitments to purchase 2.6GW of wind and solar energy, and it claims to be the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable power. Google cited research conducted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance which placed Google at the top of its corporate buyers list last month, purchasing more than double its nearest competitor; Amazon.

However, Amazon is currently contructing 180MW of new solar farms in the US in addition to an 80MW development expected to be completed by the end of the year. By buildings its own large-scale solar assets, Amazon has less need than Google to purchase renewable energy from third party projects.

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Hölzle said that Google will meet its target next year by buying enough wind and solar energy to directly account for each unit of electricity the company consumes through the purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs). While the company will not directly be generating its own energy through renewable technology it will be contributing towards its development by purchasing the RECs.

He added that Google would also focus its REC acquisitions on projects that are funded by its purchases – effectively through power purchase agreements – rather than by sourcing them from third parties.

“Operating our business in an environmentally sustainable way has been a core value from the beginning, and we’re always working on new ideas to make sustainability a reality — like enabling the building of healthy workplaces and creating a living, breathing dashboard for the planet. 

“From the solar panels on our roofs to our bike-to-work programme, these initiatives sit at the heart of our company culture and help both us and our users reduce our impact on the environment,” Hölzle said.

Google purchases the bulk of its renewable electricity in locations where its data centres and other energy-intensive operations are found. Earlier this year it opened its second data centre in Ireland; a €150 million facility at Grangecastle, County Dublin.

A number of technology companies have chosen to locate data centres in Ireland, and Apple is currently developing a new data centre near Galway which is expected to have a total energy demand of 300MW, roughly three times the current largest single-site energy user – Intel – which has one site with 100MW of power demand.

Total power demand for the island of Ireland stands at around 7GW, meaning that a new facility with power demand of 300MW increases Ireland’s energy demand by roughly 5%.

The renewables landscape in Ireland has previously been dominated onshore and offshore wind, however utility-scale solar is slowly coming to the fore as the Irish government finalises plans to subsidise developments. The first subsidy-supported ground-mount solar systems could be developed as early as 2018.

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