Last year, Google pledged to use carbon-free energy 24/7 by 2030 as its “biggest sustainability moonshot yet.” To meet that goal, Google said it would leverage new technologies and at I/O 2021 announced a “next-generation geothermal project.”

Google’s next environmental goal goes behind just purchasing renewable energy for all power usage at data centers and offices. At the time, the company said this effort would require “new transaction structures, advancements in clean energy policy, and innovative new technologies.”

It starts with the creation of what Google calls a “next-generation geothermal power project” in partnership with clean-energy startup Fervo. The defining aspect is that it’s “always-on” and continuously providing carbon-free energy that will add “firm” geothermal energy to Nevada’s electric grid system in 2022. Google will use it to power its Las Vegas Cloud region and other data centers in the state.

Importantly, this collaboration also sets the stage for next-generation geothermal to play a role as a firm and flexible carbon-free energy source that can increasingly replace carbon-emitting fossil fuels especially when aided by policies that expand and improve electricity markets; incentivize deployment of innovative technologies; and increase investments in clean energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D). 

Google next-generation geothermal

Today, geothermal only “accounts for a very small percentage of global clean energy production” given cost and location limitations. Google hopes to solve those problems by having this project leverage advanced drilling and analytics. For example, fiber-optic cables inside wells will provide real-time flow, temperature, and performance data.

This data allows Fervo to identify precisely where the best resources exist, making it possible to control flow at various depths. Coupled with the AI and machine learning development outlined above, these capabilities can increase productivity and unlock flexible geothermal power in a range of new places.

Fervo and Google will use AI and ML to boost the productivity of this next-gen geothermal.

The company today also announced that it would shift non-urgent processing for YouTube, Photos, Drive, and other types of media to data centers — in addition to time of day — that have the most carbon-free electricity available. Google will use “day-ahead predictions” of carbon-intensive energy reliance and factor privacy laws in deciding where to shift work:

Now, Google’s global carbon-intelligent computing platform will increasingly reserve and use hourly compute capacity on the most clean grids available worldwide for these compute jobs — meaning it moves as much energy consumption as possible to times and places where energy is cleaner, minimizing carbon-intensive energy consumption.

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