WINDPOWER 2013 Update: Google powering ahead with renewable energy

CHICAGO–Google, one of the nation's leading high-tech companies, has a strong commitment to renewable energy and plans to stick with that commitment over the long term, Gary Demasi, the firm's Director of Operations for Data Center Location Strategy and Energy, said today at the WINDPOWER 2013 Conference & Exhibition here.

"Google's values around renewable energy go up to the C-level of the company–Larry Page is a supporter," Demasi said. "As a company, we've been carbon-neutral since 2007."

Recently, Facebook, another tech giant, made some wind power-related waves when it announced that it would build a new data center in Altoona, Iowa, in part because of that state's abundant supply of wind energy.

Google, which already has data centers in Iowa and Oklahoma, another windy state, is increasingly seeing its desire for renewable energy as an economic development tool, Demasi said: "When it comes to the site selection process itself, increasingly, renewable energy is part of our consideration.  When I first started working in this business, the local generation stack [of energy sources] and type of utility was something we took into account, not necessarily a driving feature. Today, it's actually a necessary component.  In markets where there is plentiful supply, you probably won't see us making any siting decisions without a renewable energy plan … We do a very rigorous analysis of cost, and penalize ourselves based on the carbon footprint [of new facilities]. It's a very early consideration in the siting process.

The data centers on which Google and other major Internet companies depend and which "really power the cloud," Demasi said, use tens of megawatts of electricity and involve hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. They also support hundreds of construction jobs and, while they host a relatively small number of permanent jobs, "those jobs are typically good ones," he added.

"A data center is a major tax base contributor," Demasi explained. "In Oklahoma, we're nearing $1 billion in investment. In Iowa, we've been over $1 billion since 2006 or 2007.  So these are some pretty significant economic development opportunities.  At a time, when local communities are still reeling from the recession we've had, major capital projects like this are pretty rare."

Google pursues a three-stage approach with respect to its energy use, he said. First, the company seeks to make its data centers as highly energy efficient as possible; second, it purchases renewable energy; and third, it seeks to find high-quality offsets to cover the balance of its carbon footprint.

Google, Demasi said, is also talking with a number of utilities about developing a Renewable Energy Tariff. Elements of such a tariff would include:

– It would be a retail tariff for supply of renewable energy to large industrial loads.
– Utilities would do "what they do best," providing firmed service from dedicated renewable energy facilities.
– Qualified renewable energy would be supplied through one or more facilities owned by the customer or the utility, or contracted through a power purchase agreement (PPA): "We'd seek lot of involvement in choosing the project."
– The customer would retains green attributes of the energy supplied: "We need a renewable energy credit that we can retire against our footprint."

Why the emphasis on carbon? "We're concerned about global climate change, and we think carbon is a major contributor to that. We think reducing our carbon footprint is the right thing to do for the world, and also the right thing for our business–we think that eventually there will be a carbon tax."

Stay informed

Take Action

Subscribe to the American Clean Power blog and receive the latest renewable energy news, policy updates, and opportunities to get involved.