• Decarbonization
  • Google
  • Power Purchase Agreements
  • DER
  • Clean Energy

Google Is Going Carbon-Free 24/7, Can It Do More?

Roberto Rodriguez Labastida
Oct 01, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

Technology companies lead the decarbonization efforts from the corporate side of the equation. In particular, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have been forging ahead in their aims to decarbonize their operations. While Apple and Amazon have the added complexity of operating in the physical world where they have value chains to decarbonize, Google and Microsoft operate mostly in the digital realm. Both companies have committed to being carbon neutral and are even repaying their historical emissions.

These companies have been signing power purchase agreements (PPAs) with renewable energy projects to secure clean energy for their operations for several years. This solution is simple but not completely clean, as the generation of those projects and the energy consumption of offices and data centers does not always match. For this reason, in April 2018, I challenged technology companies and Google specifically to do more than that.

Since then, Google has been developing internal tools to manage its energy demand and match the operations of its data centers. Earlier in 2020, Google showed progress toward reducing its mismatch between location and time of the projects’ generation-providing power and energy demand. To close the gap between these two, Google created a new carbon-aware computer platform that allows the company to shift heavy computing tasks that are not time sensitive to when low carbon power sources are available. Finally, as my colleague Jessie Mehrhoff wrote, Google has committed to operating on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030.

Extending Google’s Commitment to Clean Energy

As Google already promised to operate carbon-free 24/7, I want to see an extension of the scope of Google-related emissions to employee related activities—something that the company’s current promise does not include. Traditionally, company-related emissions encompass only employee commuting-related emissions, but in the age of working from home the scope of emissions can extend to their home offices. Google should challenge itself to accomplish the following:

  • Encourage a reduction of commuting miles. A significant reduction can be made by keeping employees close to their homes on days that they are not required to be in the office (as much as 20% less commuting-related emissions for each day of the week they work remotely). Google employees are allowed to work from home at least until summer 2021, so it should be possible to make this shift partially permanent.
  • Support the electrification of Google employees’ vehicles. Google could facilitate company car programs offering EVs only and provide EV charging and free electricity in the company parking lots or at home for those working remotely. In exchange, employees could give Google the right to use part of their EV batteries in distributed energy resources (DER) programs when they are parked at company locations. Google is already leading in this space, building EV charging infrastructure and partially electrifying their carsharing program, but a qualitative commitment—such as reaching 100% penetration of EVs in the carsharing program—would be nice.
  • Promote the installation of DER (such as solar and batteries) in employees’ home offices. Google could offer to pay for the electricity coming from a solar roof during working hours (a simplified PPA) or support employee energy communities in locations where they have offices.

Google’s energy team is thinking significantly ahead, and its new 24/7 commitment provides others with a roadmap showing how corporations can move toward carbon-free operations. Extending this commitment beyond internal operations and into the communities corporations touch would emphasize Google’s clean energy engagement.