Google Sign up to the Largest Renewable Energy Deal in History

On 19th September Google, the search giant announced that it was making a major investment in renewable energy.

Google’s Chief Executive, Sundar Pichai said the clean energy deal will include 18 separate agreements across the US, Europe and Latin America to supply Google with electricity from wind and solar projects constituting what he said was the “biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history”.

Almost half of Google’s new renewable energy investments will be made in Europe, to include projects in Finland, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark.

The deal includes purchasing energy from solar farms in South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas, and making data centre investments in Chile that combine solar and wind power.

Overall, the company is purchasing a whopping 1,600 megawatts in new energy deals electricity – the equivalent capacity of a million solar rooftops, the company said.

Sundar Pichai said that Google’s worldwide portfolio of wind and solar deals has increased by more than 40% to 5,500 megawatts with the new agreements. Google also said that the new agreements will set in motion the development of millions of solar panels, wind turbines and other construction which will total more than $2 billion in new infrastructure.

Sundar Pichai said:

“Sustainability has been one of Google’s core values from our earliest days. Over the years we’ve worked hard to reduce the carbon footprint of our operations, build products with people and planet in mind, and drive change at scale through our supply chains.”

One industry expert commended Google’s action as a “step change” in corporate commitments to green energy. The deals were revealed before the UN climate change summit in New York and on the eve of planned worldwide environmental protests.

Google said it had already become the first company of its size to match 100% of its electricity use with renewable energy sources in 2017 after buying more than 7bn kilowatt-hours of electricity. It went on to match that feat again in 2018 and expects to meet the target in 2019 too.

Due to fluctuations in supply however, not all of the electricity Google uses flows directly from green sources. The new commitments are a step closer to it’s longer term goal of “carbon free” operations meaning that renewable energy is being used, every day, without the company having to fall back on coal or gas fired power stations.

For now, wind and solar power is not reliable or widely available enough to manage that objective, making investment in new capacity critical.

Sundar Pinchai said:

“We are making long-term purchase commitments that result in the development of new projects. Bringing incremental renewable energy to the grids where we consume energy is a critical component of pursuing 24×7 carbon-free energy for all of our operations.”

Google has signed up to long-term power purchase agreements or PPAs which encompass 52 projects and generates 5,500MW of energy. Corporate PPAs have developed as an essential way to secure long-term investment in creating new wind and solar capacity since government funding for renewables has decreased in many parts of the world.

Sundar Pinchai said in a blog post:

“Once all these projects come online, our carbon-free energy portfolio will produce more electricity than places like Washington DC or entire countries like Lithuania or Uruguay use each year.”

Google is not alone in wanting to reduce the vast environmental impact of their data centres and devices. Other Silicon Valley companies are also aiming to change their global operations. Facebook has pledged to power its operations using 100% renewable energy by the end of 2020 saying that it has signed deals worth 2,500MW over the last 12 months. Amazon said it planned to be carbon neutral by 2040 and would order 100,000 electric delivery trucks in order to reach this goal. Apple said last year that its own facilities are 100% powered by renewables. Apple’s manufacturing suppliers account for the biggest share of its overall environmental impact with the production of its iPhones and Macs. Apple is pushing them to become 100% powered by renewables in line with them.

Pichai also announced two energy-related grants from Google.org, the search giant’s philanthropic arm. The company is giving a $500,000 grant to the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance in the US, and €500,000 to RE-Source in Europe. The money will be used to research new business models for renewable energy and provide training to consumers. 

Sustainability is high on Google’s agenda with the pledge last month to make it’s “Made by Google” line of products including, Pixel smartphones, Google Home smart speakers and its nest devices, more sustainable. The company has said that all its devices will include recycled materials by 2022.

Helen Clarkson, chief executive of the Climate Group, a non-profit organisation that works with companies including Google, Apple and Facebook to reduce their environmental impact, said:

“Google’s latest energy deals would serve as an inspiration and a challenge to others.  Google’s suite of purchases is an order of magnitude larger than the current trend and marks a step change in corporate investments. This huge portfolio of new projects demonstrates how corporate investment in renewable electricity is expanding in scale and global reach.”