Google claims 100 percent renewable energy usage by 2017 — but it’s paying for it

With the science of global warming ever harder to argue against, many of the world’s top tech companies have been striving to reach 100 percent renewable energy usage for their international operations. Although many are on the right path, Google could be the first to hit the milestone.

Google, like many big tech firms, has a lot of data to handle, which is why it has 13 large warehouses full of servers all over the world. They host everything from Gmail emails to YouTube videos and Play Store content. But all of those servers require power and the vast cooling systems required do too.

Fortunately, starting in 2017, Google will be able to claim that its data centers operate on 100 percent renewable energy. That’s a big step in the right direction.

Google chart shows renewable energy purchasing in the US

“Our ultimate goal is to create a world where everyone — not just Google — has access to clean energy,” wrote Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure, in a blog post detailing the accomplishment.

It’s not entirely true of course. As The Verge points out, while Google will be getting much of its energy from renewable sources, it will also be buying a lot of excess energy. To counter much-needed ‘dirty’ energy purchases in parts of the world where green power is less accessible, Google will buy up renewable energy and then filter the excess back into the grid.

This gives Google a juicy headline, but it is genuinely good for the environment too. It increases the amount of green energy that is required by the world’s grids and therefore shows there is more money in providing it. That, in turn, drives prices down as competition increases and innovation is encouraged.

In the long term too, Google says it does plan to quite literally power its entire operation with renewable sources. To do that, it hopes to encourage investment and development of renewable energy in areas that it operates its major data centers and offices.

To that end, it recently took on all 100 megawatts of power output by the NextEra Energy Resources Minco-II wind farm on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.

It also made big improvements in the efficiency of the hardware it uses; partly through upgrades to more efficient modern hardware and also through restructuring its own business and how it moves data around. Part of that will involve machine learning, which is also helping it streamline operations. Google suggests it may make those algorithms public in the future so other businesses can improve their energy efficiency in a similar manner.