Sometime next year, the total amount of renewable energy that Google purchases from wind and solar farms will for the first time match the amount of electricity consumed by the company's global network of data centers and offices.
The milestone will not mean that all of Google's data centers and offices will be powered solely by renewable energy sources, as many have presumed. The company will continue to remain hooked up to the electric grid and draw power from the grid on a continuous basis even when its solar and wind sources may not be producing electricity.
Instead what the milestone means is that the total amount of electricity Google puts into the grid system from renewable sources each year will equal the company's total energy consumption worldwide.
"I'm thrilled to announce that in 2017 Google will reach 100 percent renewable energy for our global operations," the company's senior vice president technical infrastructure Urs Holzle announced in a blog.
Starting with a 2010 agreement to purchase all electricity from a 114-megawatt wind farm in Iowa, Google has entered into multiple long-term contracts for renewable energy from sources around the world. In 2017, Google is on track to nearly double its annual purchases of renewable energy and match the total energy consumption requirements of its data centers and offices worldwide, Holzle said.
The use of renewable energy will not only help Google reduce its carbon footprint, but also makes business sense for the company. Electricity costs represent one of the largest portions of Google's operating expenses presently and the company has an opportunity to drive those costs down by tapping wind and solar power as energy sources, Holzle said.
Over the past six years, the costs associated with wind-powered energy have dropped 60 percent while solar energy costs have dropped 80 percent, he said. The stable costs associated with renewable energy will also protect Google against unpredictable swings in electricity costs in future, Holzle said.
Google currently has investments in 20 wind and solar energy projects scattered around the world. In 2015 alone, the company entered into six new agreements to purchase a total 842 megawatts of renewable energy, which it says is the largest aggregate purchase ever by a non-utility company.
In total, Google has committed to spending some $3.5 billion in total over the next few years to purchase a staggering 2.6 gigawatts of energy globally. "That's bigger than many large utilities and more than twice as much as the 1.21 gigawatts it took to send Marty McFly back to the future," Holzle said referring to the 1985 sci-fi movie "Back to the Future".
As one of the larger consumers of electricity in the private sector, Google has for years looked for ways to reduce both energy consumption and costs. The company says its data centers require about 50 percent less energy to operate than typical data centers of comparable size as a result of improvements it has made in server and building design. Google says that almost all of the energy that its data centers use go towards powering IT equipment unlike other data centers which consume a substantial amount of energy for non-computing purposes like power conversion and cooling.
The average annual power usage effectiveness (PUE) of Google's collection of global data centers was 1.12 in 2015, which is much lower than the industry average of 1.7. PUE is a metric used to measure data center energy efficiency. Google's PUE is about six times lower than the overhead energy used by the average data center for every piece of IT equipment, the company has noted.