Google: From carbon neutrality to 100% renewable energy, and beyondBSR
Google is a US multinational technology company, and a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc. Google states that its mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In practice, this has led to the development of a wide array of primarily internet-related products and services, from its signature search engine to online advertising systems, cloud computing, software (e.g. Google Maps and YouTube), and hardware.
Google is committed to purchasing enough renewable energy to match 100% of its global electricity consumption, a goal that it achieved in 2017 and intends to maintain as the company grows. Further, Google aspires to achieve this 100% goal on each grid where it has significant operations, and to move towards procurement of clean energy on a 24-7 basis.
To achieve this goal, Google pursues an aggressive three-fold strategy: energy efficiency, renewable energy procurement, and, when necessary, carbon offsets. In 2007, Google committed to carbon neutrality – a goal it has met every year since – and in 2010 the company entered into its first power purchase agreement (PPA) to buy renewable energy. In 2012, they increased their ambition with a commitment to purchase enough renewable energy to match 100% of Google’s operational electricity consumption – a goal they met in 2017. To date, Google has signed contracts to purchase the output of more than 3 GW of renewable energy across 26 projects, making it the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world and resulting in more than $3.5 billion USD of total investment.
Clean Energy Leadership
Since publicly committing to renewable energy leadership, Google has worked to not only meet its own goals, but also to pave the way for others. In 2010, Google pioneered work to open energy markets to corporate entities that seek to purchase renewable energy directly via power purchase agreements. These agreements both help Google meet its environmental goals, and make good business sense—signing long-term, fixed-price contracts reduces exposure to fuel price volatility. Google is also an active participant in RE100, led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, and in collaborative efforts, including the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Alliance, that work to increase access to renewable energy for everyone.
As the company expands, Google continues its work to bring renewable energy to every region in which it has operations through advocacy of clean energy policies and support for renewable energy procurement programs. As of 2018, the company has signed large-scale power purchase agreements for wind and solar power on three continents. When evaluating potential investments, Google prioritizes new projects that bring additional renewable energy capacity onto local grids. While not always straightforward—some projects are made possible through years of consultation with local utilities, regulators, and power providers—Google has been steadfast in applying the patience and innovation necessary to solve renewable energy challenges at scale.
Google is an active supporter of policies that enable corporate renewable energy procurement in the United States and around the world. They are one of the largest corporate purchasers of and investors in renewable energy globally, and are actively working to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future. These efforts are helping Google meet its goals and maintain performance, while also generating jobs and economic activity in the communities where projects are developed and built. For example, Google’s power purchase agreements in Europe have enabled 1 billion euros in investment into renewable energy.
CONTINUED LEADERSHIP TOWARD A ZERO-CARBON FUTURE
Currently, Google procures an amount of renewable energy equivalent to its consumption on an annual, global basis. But or Google, this 100% renewable energy purchasing milestone is just the beginning. In addition to continuing to aggressively move forward with renewable energy technologies like wind and solar, the company will work to achieve the much more challenging long-term goal of powering its operations on a region-specific, 24-7 basis with clean, zero-carbon energy.
OVERCOMING UNCERTAINTY WITH AMBITION AND INNOVATION
Uncertainty around what Google’s operations might look like in the future, as well as how renewable energy markets might evolve, did not stunt the company’s ambition to set leadership renewable energy goals. Instead, Google relies on its core competencies as an innovation and technology company to aggressively pursue a portfolio of purchasing tactics to reach its targets.
In the five years between setting and reaching its 100% renewable energy purchasing goal, Google learned which tactics were most successful, and shared those learnings in a 2016 white paper. For Google, publishing information about its renewable energy goals and insights is an important way to keep stakeholders informed on progress, and to share what they’ve learned in hopes of driving greater impact overall.
Looking ahead, Google is focused on its next-level aspiration to power operations on a region-specific, 24-7 basis with clean, zero-carbon energy. To reach this goal, Google will:
- Take a regional approach to renewable energy, working to maximize the amount of renewable energy purchased in regions where it operates: Today, the company is overbuying renewable energy in some markets to offset its inability to purchase renewables in other markets where there are policy or regulatory barriers to renewable procurement. Google is now working to shift efforts toward purchasing more renewables from other forms of clean energy on the grids where it operates, which means unlocking access to renewables in regions where it doesn’t exist today. In all markets, Google aims to have a direct financial tie between a specific energy resources and its final retail energy bill—a critical step in demonstrating the business case for renewable purchasing.
- Pursue new technologies that advance 24-7 clean energy: One of the biggest barriers to 24-7 renewable energy is resource variability. Google’s ultimately seeks to pursue a suite of zero-carbon energy options that closely match its load profile and will continue searching for new technological approaches for its energy supply portfolio.
- Promoting energy policies that empower consumers and accelerate the transition to 24-7 clean energy while driving economic growth: Governments have an essential role to play in advancing clean energy solutions at scale around the world. Google will promote policies that correctly price energy technologies, scale up investment in research and development, and prioritize customer choice.
The company is also supporting efforts that advance climate science and GHG management across the economy. At the September 2018 Global Climate Action Summit, Google unveiled the Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE). Created in collaboration with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM), the new tool uses Google’s extensive global mapping data and GHG emission factors to estimate a city’s building and transportation carbon emissions data and renewable energy potential. EIE aims to help set more consistent global baselines, from which cities can build policies, create solutions, and measure progress toward targets.
The road to 24-7 clean energy may not be entirely clear to us today, but we’re ok with that. At Google, we believe in setting our sights on a moonshot goal, even if we don’t know quite how to achieve it yet. We’re committed to work towards 24-7 clean energy for our global electricity supply portfolio and to help drive the transition of\the entire electric grid to a clean energy future.Mars Hanna, Senior Lead for Global Energy Policy and Markets
Sources / Further Reading:
- Google Environmental Report – 2017 progress update
- Achieving Our 100% Renewable Energy Purchasing Goal and Going Beyond
- How Google cleared a path for companies to buy clean power
- Meeting our match: Buying 100 percent renewable energy
- We’re set to reach 100% renewable energy — and it’s just the beginning
- Google Environmental Report – 2018
- The more you know: Turning environmental insights into action
- New wind in Finland: Scaling renewable energy as we grow
- Moving toward 24×7 Carbon-Free Energy at Google Data Centers
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