What is the carbon footprint of a websearch on Google? Or of sending an email through a gmail account? We ask this because Google operates data centers around the world. Data centers at Google’s scale consume a large amount of electricity. In most cases this represents a large emissions footprint from burning coal, or some other fuel, because electricity doesn’t exactly grow on trees. Electricity can be captured from the wind, however, and today Google unveiled news of an increase in renewable energy purchases to power the company’s data centers.
When someone asks about the carbon footprint of a websearch, do they account for the fact that not all electricity is equally bad? Buried inside the question is a worry over high electricity consumption is an assumption, that electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. Because fossil fuel consumption is really bad, environmentally, a lot of effort is going into reducing electricity consumption to reduce fossil fuel consumption. But what if the electricity source is clean, is there still a need to reduce electricity consumption?
Back in 2007, Google announced a goal of becoming carbon neutral by the end of 2007. The company is following a three part strategy:
- reduce energy consumption by maximizing efficiency;
- invest in and use renewable energy sources; and
- purchase carbon offsets for the emissions that we can’t reduce directly.
Carbon offsets purchases is described by Google as a “temporary tool which allows us to take full responsibility for our impact right away,” allowing the company to reduce environmental impact right away, while taking the time develop “more sustainable strategies for the future.” Today’s announcement falls into the second leg of the company’s strategy, buying electricity directly from a renewable resource.
Specifically, Google has signed an agreement with the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) to supply electricity to the company’s Oklahoma data center. The source of that electricity will be GRDA’s Canadian Hills Wind Project in Oklahoma.
Google is now contracting to purchase over 260 megawatts of renewable electricity.
The agreement is a first for both GRDA and Google. In GRDA’s case it is their first wind-energy project, and for Google it is the company’s first agreement with a utility company to increase the amount of renewable electricity powering a Google data center.
Source: The Official Google Blog