Donald Trump may want America to burn coal like it’s 1947 again, but real adults are taking a more pragmatic approach to not destroying the entire ecosystem for the sake of a few shekels. Today, Google announced that it will be powered 100% by renewables by the end of 2017. Why? Is Google looking to make some sort of radical political statement? Is it ready to tank its stock valuation by overpaying for electricity? Hardly. Google has done the math and clean, renewable power makes the most business sense for the company. Take that, all you fossil fuel fanatics.
“We are convinced this is good for business, this is not about greenwashing. This is about locking in prices for us in the long term. Increasingly, renewable energy is the lowest cost option,” said Marc Oman, EU energy lead at Google. “Our founders are convinced climate change is a real, immediate threat, so we have to do our part.”
Last year, Google obtained 44% of its electrical energy from renewable sources. It started building to 100% renewables in 2012 and expects to get there before the end of next year. Oman said it had taken Google five years to reach the 100% target because of the complexity involved with negotiating power purchase agreements. “It’s complicated, it’s not for everyone: smaller companies will struggle with the documents. We are buying power in a lot of different jurisdictions, so you can’t just copy and paste agreements.”
Tech companies have grown so fast that they now account for nearly 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, rivaling the aviation industry. To control how much energy it consumes, Google has begun using artificial intelligence to become more energy efficient. It says AI has cut its electricity usage by 15% — a huge accomplishment considering the company has 60,000 employees worldwide.
Oman said that while the falling price of solar and wind meant they had been the cheapest technologies to get to 100% by 2017, Google was now looking to sign 10 year agreements for low carbon power that was not intermittent, such as hydro, biomass and nuclear. “We want to do contracts with forms of renewable power that are more baseload-like, so low-impact hydro; it could be biomass if the fuel source is sustainable, it could be nuclear, God forbid, we’re not averse. We’re looking at all forms of low-carbon generation.”
But he said new nuclear power was “controversial”, the safety implications were much more “dramatic” than with renewables, and the price was “much more difficult [to ascertain]” than when funding solar panels and wind turbines. “We don’t want to rule out signing a nuclear contract if it meets our goals of low price, safety, additionality, and in a sufficiently close grid, we don’t want to rule that out, but today we can’t positively say there are nuclear projects out there that meet this criteria,” he said.
As grid scale battery storage technology improves and becomes more price competitive, hopefully Google will defer employing the nuclear option long enough so that less costly and more environmentally friendly options are available.
Source: The Guardian