Google today said it will be able to power all of its global data centers and corporate offices from 100% renewable energy in 2017, a goal the company has been working toward for years.
Six years ago, Google began signing long-term contracts to buy renewable energy directly from solar and wind farm suppliers. The company's first contract was to purchase all the electricity from a 114-megawatt (MW) wind farm in Iowa.
Last year, Google purchased another 842MW of renewable energy, nearly doubling the clean power it had purchased, which took it to 2 gigawatts (GW) of cumulative renewable power.
"Today, we are the world's largest corporate buyer of renewable power, with commitments reaching 2.6 gigawatts (2,600 megawatts) of wind and solar energy. That's bigger than many large utilities and more than twice as much as the 1.21 gigawatts it took to send Marty McFly back to the future," Urs Hölzle, Google's senior vice president of technical infrastructure, stated in a blog.
Google pursued a multi-pronged approach to reach its 100% renewable energy goal, buying electricity through power purchase agreements (PPAs) that locked in contracts for carbon-free energy at a set price. The guaranteed revenue from PPAs also allowed renewable energy suppliers to invest with confidence in additional capacity, such as wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. Google also started creating more efficient facilities that would use less energy.
Google has signed onto 20 renewable energy projects around the world -- about two-thirds of which are in the U.S. -- amounting to more than $3.5 billion in clean energy investments.
Google also purchased its power through renewable energy credits, each one of which represents 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity sold separately from commodity power sources and fed into the general electrical grid.
"Over the last six years, the cost of wind and solar came down 60% and 80%, respectively, proving that renewables are increasingly becoming the lowest cost option," Hölzle said. "Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centers, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy."
"Our ultimate goal is to create a world where everyone -- not just Google -- has access to clean energy," he added.
Corporations increasingly demand more renewables
Google is far from alone in working toward achieving 100% renewable energy usage.
In September, Apple announced its commitment to running all of its data centers and corporate offices on renewable energy, joining a group of other corporations committed to the same clean energy goal.
Also in September, Microsoft announced plans to power its data centers around the world using 50% renewable energy by 2018. The company also plans to boost its use of renewable power for its data centers to 60% by the early 2020s.
Last year, Apple announced it was investing $850 million in a solar power plant through a partnership with First Solar, one of the nation's largest photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers and provider of utility-scale PV plants.
Increasingly, corporations are also pressing governments to change policies to favor the use of renewable energy, which -- depending on the region -- can be less expensive than power from traditional sources such as coal-fired power plants.
Increasing the use of renewable energy has become a targeted goal of almost half of Fortune 500 companies, according to one report. In 2014, more than half of Fortune 100 companies collectively saved $1.1 billion in energy costs by rolling out renewable energy programs.
"Operating our business in an environmentally sustainable way has been a core value from the beginning, and we're always working on new ideas to make sustainability a reality," Hölzle said.