If you send email with Gmail, host your school papers on Google Drive, or watch YouTube videos, you’ve taken advantage of one or more of Google’s many data centers. Today, Google has announced that it’s opening up its 14th site globally, but they’re planning to do something interesting — they’re planning to rework the existing infrastructure of the soon-to-be shut down Widows Creek coal power plant in Alabama…
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This is symbolic more than anything. We’ve rarely reported on Google’s data centers, and there’s a reason for that. Every large technology corporation in the world has data centers, and Google probably has more than most. This one is most definitely notable because it’s a representation of the world we live in — and the world we hope to be moving towards. While working on self-driving electric cars and countless other environmental efforts in its labs, Google is also now moving in on an ancient coal power plant that will hopefully not long from be an artifact of the many fossil fuel-hungry generations (that we’re still a part of).
This time, we’re doing something we’ve never done before: we’ll be building on the grounds of the Widows Creek coal power plant in Jackson County, which has been scheduled for shutdown. Data centers need a lot of infrastructure to run 24/7, and there’s a lot of potential in redeveloping large industrial sites like former coal power plants. Decades of investment shouldn’t go to waste just because a site has closed; we can repurpose existing electric and other infrastructure to make sure our data centers are reliably serving our users around the world.
Google says that it can “use the plants’ many electric transmission lines to bring in lots of renewable energy,” and plans to “incorporate our state-of-the-art energy efficiency technologies.” We told you in May of last year about new artificial intelligence technology that the company is using to make its data centers more efficient, notably getting their power usage effectiveness down to the 1.12 mark — which is about twice as efficient as the typical data center.
Google has been on the forefront of environmentally friendly initiatives, and was just last month praised by Greenpeace for taking many steps towards a goal of running 100% of renewable energy. The company also invested $145 million into a new 82 MW solar plant in California last year, and invested $300 million earlier this year in the largest ever fund for residential solar power.