• carbon reduction
  • Data Centers
  • Google
  • DER
  • Clean Energy

What Google Needs to Reach 24/7 Carbon-Free

Jessie Mehrhoff
Sep 29, 2020

Guidehouse Insights solar panel

Technological innovation, government regulation, and economic development are at the helm of our proverbial climate steering wheel. (Yes, you should continue to turn your lights off when you exit a room, but you can read my thoughts on the individualization of responsibility here.) Together, these three forces drive our relationship with the energy that fuels our lives. Some big influencers exist within each sphere, one being Google. On September 14, 2020, Google announced that by 2030, it will operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy. This move has the potential to alter processes across the industry by showing the feasibility of relying solely on clean energy.

24/7 Carbon-Free by 2030? We’re Not Surprised.

While the cloud remains an amorphous concept to many, its energy footprint is the opposite of light and airy. Data centers around the world operate 24/7 to keep us connected. In 2018, Google consumed nearly 10.6 TWh of electricity. Despite this growth in energy consumption, Google has demonstrated climate leadership:

  • In 2007, it was the first major company to become carbon neutral.
  • In 2017, it reached 100% renewable energy, making good on its RE100 pledge. Following this announcement, Guidehouse Insights challenged Google to push its goals further afield by funding onsite storage projects, ensuring distributed generation assets are part of demand response and virtual power plant programs, and making sure new electricity was produced locally.
  • By October 2018, Google released its Moving toward 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy at Google Data Centers: Progress and Insights paper. The paper included a variety of measures, such as deploying clean energy assets at the most carbon-intensive points on the grid and increasing reliance on power purchase agreements to achieve an immediate carbon-free boost.
  • By April 2020, Google published a progress report showing how a new carbon-aware computer platform was helping the company shift energy-intensive tasks to times when clean energy penetration on the grid was highest.

Pilot Results from Google’s Carbon Intelligent Computing

Pilot Results from Google’s Carbon Intelligent Computing

(Source: Google)

Google’s September 2020 announcement goes further than past announcements. A message from Google’s CEO stated “We’re eliminating our entire carbon legacy, effective today.” However, the company has demonstrated its move toward carbon-free energy for the past couple of years; so, while Guidehouse Insights is pleased with this announcement, we’re not surprised.

The Next Decade of Distributed Energy Resources

Google notes that its first step will be to move toward 24/7 clean energy at its data centers and campuses around the world. Guidehouse Insights recognizes the critical role that data centers play in supporting the digital economy and society. The global market for sustainable generation in data centers is forecast to reach a cumulative total of $50.7 billion in revenue between 2018 and 2027. Google’s ability to achieve its target will be driven by:

  • Grid-connected power generation models via the purchase of clean power from the local electric utility or local renewable energy as a service companies and project developers.
  • Distributed storage and power generation where capacity installations and investments fuel primary power required to run day-to-day operations and critical power to support peaking load and uninterrupted power during an outage.
  • Demand management to strategically shift load throughout the day to data centers operating with less carbon-intensive energy
    These tasks are easier said than done. Google and other companies working to achieve 24/7 carbon-free targets will need to take advantage of new power purchase business models, invest in edge computing, and seize demand response opportunities.

While Google’s September 2020 announcement deserves applause, I call on my colleague Roberto Rodriguez Labastida to issue a new challenge. After all, there’s always room to push the boundaries in the Energy Cloud transformation.