A little over a year ago, Google announced that it was on track to purchase enough renewable energy to match all the electricity it consumed over the next year. Once completed the accounting for Google’s 2017 energy use it’s official—Google mets its goal. Google’s total purchase of energy from sources like wind and solar exceeded the amount of electricity used by its operations around the world, including offices and data centers.
What do the company mean by “matching” renewable energy? Over the course of 2017, across the globe, for every kWh of electricity Google consumed, it purchased a kWh of renewable energy from a wind or solar farm that was built specifically for Google. This makes Google the first public Cloud, and company of this size, to have achieved this feat.
The road to 100 percent
Google has been working toward this goal for a long time. Every year, the company signs contracts for new renewable energy generation projects in markets where it has operations. From the time it signs a contract, it takes one to two years to build the wind farm or solar field before it begins producing energy. In 2016, its operational projects produced enough renewables to cover 57 percent of the energy it used. That same year, it signed a record number of new contracts for wind and solar developments that were still under construction. Those projects began operating in 2017—and that additional output of renewable energy was enough to cover more than 100 percent of what it used during the whole year.
Google says that it “matched” its energy usage because it’s not yet possible to “power” a company of its scale by 100 percent renewable energy. It’s true that for every kWh of energy it consumes, it adds a matching kWh of renewable energy to a power grid somewhere. But that renewable energy may be produced in a different place, or at a different time, from where it’s running they data centers and offices. What’s important is that it’s adding new clean energy sources to the electrical system, and that it’s buying that renewable energy in the same amount as what it’s consuming, globally and on an annual basis.
Google is building new data centers and offices, and as demand for Google products grows, so does its electricity load. Google needs to be constantly adding renewables to its portfolio to keep up. So the company will keep signing contracts to buy more renewable energy. And in those regions where it can’t yet buy renewables, Google will keep working on ways to help open the market. Googles is working with groups like the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance and Re-Source Platform to facilitate greater access to renewably-sourced energy.