Google gets a little greener with wind energy purchase.
By Paul Batistelli
In an effort to green its data centers, Google agreed to purchase all 240 megawatts of renewable power from the Happy Hereford wind farm outside of Amarillo, Texas. The wind farm, owned by Native American energy firm Chermac Energy, is expected to launch in 2014.
Google won't be able to use the wind energy directly. Once renewable energy is generated at a wind farm, it's added to the electricity grid where it mixes with fossil fuel-generated energy and is delivered around the nation. Instead, Google gets credit for the renewable energy it purchases, which helps offset the Internet giant's energy consumption.
The wind power from the Happy Hereford wind farm will be placed on the region's grid, the Southwest Power Pool, which serves Google's data center in Mayes County, Oklahoma.
Going Carbon Neutral
This is the sixth and largest long-term energy agreement Google has purchased. With this new investment the company has contracts for more than 800 MW of renewable energy. In addition to the Happy Hereford wind farm, Google purchases 114 MW of wind energy from a facility in Iowa, 100.8 MW from a wind farm in Oklahoma, 48 MW from another farm in Oklahoma, 239.2 MW from a facility in the Texas Panhandle and 72 MW of clean energy from a wind farm in Sweden.
Unfortunately all of this renewable energy still isn't enough to run Google's data centers on clean energy. According to Google, it purchased enough renewable energy in 2012 to offset just 34 percent of its energy consumption in the data centers and facilities it operates all over the world.
The other 66 percent was supplied by fossil fuel-generated energy, but Google says it compensates for this environmental cost through carbon offset projects. Google released its most recent carbon footprint data in August which shows that the company produced 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012—a 9 percent decrease from the previous year. However, Google isn't just satisfied with lowering its carbon footprint. The company purchased enough carbon offsets to bring its footprint back to zero.
Setting the Green Standard
Beyond purchasing large loads of renewable energy for its own use, Google invests money in renewable energy technology and projects. To date, the company has provided more than $1 billion in capital for green energy developments all over the world. Combined, these projects produce about 2 gigawatts of energy—enough to power about 500,000 homes.
Google has to use a lot of energy to keep data centers running and provide information for more than 1 billion searches per day. According to Google, each individual search requires 180 watt hours, or the equivalent of running a 60 watt light bulb for three hours. But Google's large energy footprint helps others reduce energy costs. The company says that switching to Google Apps has helped companies around the world reduce energy use, computing costs and carbon emissions by up to 90 percent.
Despite its massive energy use, Google is the green standard when it comes to data centers. According to Google, its data centers use 50 percent less energy than typical data centers. The standard measurement of energy efficiency in a data center is known as power usage effectiveness, or PUE. Getting a PUE of 1 means that all the power generated in the facility is put to use. Most data centers are lucky if they get a PUE of 2, meaning half of the power generated is used. But Google has reached an unprecedented score of 1.2.
Utilizing the Three R's for Sustainable Development
One reason Google has been so successful is because it busted through the myth that data centers have to be kept cool. Instead, the company keeps its facilities at a precise 80 degrees, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends for optimal energy savings for homes and businesses.
Regardless of what the temperature is inside a data facility, servers need to be chilled periodically so they don’t overheat. But Google has found a way to cut back on its energy consumption. For example, its data center in Hamina, Finland, uses cold seawater to cool hot servers, eliminating the need for mechanical chillers. The company utilized 100 percent recycled water to cool two of its centers and is even trying to figure out how to capture rain water for the same purpose in a third.
Additionally, Google has been reusing its data center equipment since 2007. It has transformed outdated servers and avoided purchasing more than 300,000 new machines because of the program. And if Google can't find a use for all the pieces, it resells them to give the machines a new life somewhere else.
Earlier this year Google announced a slew of data center improvement plans to further increase their energy efficiency, with a price tag totaling $2 billion. Plans include a $600 million expansion of its facility in Berkeley County, S.C., roughly $390 million for a new data center in Belgium, $400 million worth of construction on its facility in Lenoir, N.C., and another $400 million expanding its center in Iowa.
With these investments Google is setting a precedent for sustainable development across the technology sector—and growing ever closer to actualizing its long-term goal of running entirely on renewable energy.
About the Author:
Paul Batistelli freelances in the energy field for the promotion of a greener society and energy means. He works to raise awareness on ecological issues, energy dependency and reducing carbon footprints.