Google says its cloud is getting greener

The search-to-cloud giant is now buying enough renewable energy to match the electricity used in its data centres and offices.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Google is now buying enough renewable energy to match the power used in its data centres and offices.

The search-to-cloud-computing giant said that last year its total purchase of energy from sources including wind and solar exceeded the amount of electricity used by its operations around the world.

For every kilowatt-hour of electricity the company used in its offices and data centres, Google purchased a kilowatt hour of renewable energy from a wind or solar farm that was built specifically for the company.

"This makes us the first public cloud, and company of our size, to have achieved this feat," said Urs Hölzle, Google's senior vice president of technical infrastructure.

He said the company now has contracts to purchase three gigawatts of output from renewable energy projects and is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy.

A big challenge

Powering cloud computing services in an environmentally-friendly way is a big challenge as usage of cloud services grows.

Thanks to all those data centres, tech companies are now among the biggest users of electricity. For example, Microsoft recently struck a deal with GE to buy all of the output from its new 37-megawatt wind farm in Ireland for the next 15 years in order to power its cloud data centres. Ireland said it expects data centres to account for 15 percent of total energy demand by 2026 across the country, up from less than two percent back in 2015.

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Google has been working on this project for some time. It first announced plans to become carbon neutral in 2007 by maximising efficiency and purchasing carbon offsets; since then, the company has been working on renewables.

However, Hölzle acknowledged that buying renewable energy is not the same as using renewable energy.

"It's not yet possible to 'power' a company of our scale by 100 percent renewable energy. It's true that for every kilowatt-hour of energy we consume, we add a matching kilowatt-hour of renewable energy to a power grid somewhere. But that renewable energy may be produced in a different place, or at a different time, from where we're running our data centres and offices."

Hölzle said that Google's target is to reach a point where renewables and other carbon-free energy sources "actually power our operations every hour of every day".


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