For 2017, Google was able to purchase enough renewable energy to match its global usage. The company reached that goal again in 2018, thus making it the “first organization of [its] size to achieve 100 percent renewable energy two years running.”
In 2018, the company’s total electricity usage increased to 10 terawatts-hour from around 7.5 the year prior. Renewable energy resources include solar and wind, with Google’s global usage comprised of data centers and offices. To meet the goal, its “first priority” is using as little energy as possible.
Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and chip design, our data centers are seven times more energy efficient today than they were five years ago. Our latest Environmental Report shows that computing using centralized cloud services is up to 85 percent more efficient than using on-premises servers, which is good news for our users and the planet.
Buying energy involves Google signing Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to get electricity from wind or solar farms built near data centers. According to the company, these long-term contracts have “more impact than other purchasing methods.” Compared to Renewable Energy Credits, PPAs can often result in new renewable energy projects being created.
In 2018, our energy purchasing kept pace with our demand thanks to several PPA-driven projects—including three wind farms in Scandinavia, dozens of massive wind turbines in Oklahoma, and more than 120,000 solar panels in the Netherlands.
Google is increasingly partnering with utility companies to buy energy through new programs that other businesses can also take advantage of in the U.S. The idea is to have companies opt for renewable energy directly from utilities. Other strategies around the world include partnering with others to buy energy as a consortium in the Netherlands.
Looking forward, Google wants to switch to carbon-free energy full-time, but this is still difficult due to the intermittent nature of renewable sources.
To bridge the gap between intermittent renewable resources and the constant demands of the digital economy, we’ll have to test new business models, deploy new technologies, and advocate for new policies. Yet aiming for 24×7 carbon-free energy reflects reality—ultimately, it’s where the world must go.