Image: iStock/MrJub

For the last four years, Google has matched 100% of its global electricity use with purchases of renewable energy. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, announced today that five data center sites in Denmark, Finland, Iowa, Oklahoma and Oregon are operating on 90% carbon-free energy.

“Within a decade we aim for every Google data center, cloud region and office campus to run on clean electricity every hour of every day,” he said in a blog post.

Google buys power from more than 50 renewable energy projects for a total of 5.5 gigawatts—equal to about one million solar rooftops. In March, Google announced that it has delivered seven times as much computing power with the same amount of electricity, as compared to five years ago.

Pichai also wrote in the post that the company is shifting data center backup generation to batteries, advancing time-based clean energy tracking and allowing Google Cloud customers to select the lowest carbon regions.

SEE: 9 tech companies improving the environment (TechRepublic)

Starting in 2013, Google started buying renewable energy as part of its sustainability strategy. In the first year, the company bought 35% of its energy from renewable sources. That number jumped to 61% in 2016, and in 2017 the company hit 100% renewable energy.

The company started these renewable projects in 2020:

  • First offshore wind project in the North Sea to support the company’s Belgium data center
  • Power purchases from a new solar farm in the Antofagasta region to match Google’s growing load in South America
  • Solar panels distributed across hundreds of public housing rooftops to provide new clean energy in land-constrained Singapore
  • Large-scale solar and wind projects to support data centers from Oklahoma to Alabama to Virginia

Google started with a goal to be carbon neutral to offset emissions. The next step was to get power from 100% renewable sources. The company hit those targets in 2007 and 2017, respectively. The next step is to go completely carbon-free and eliminate Scope 2 emissions. Scope 2 emissions cover purchased electricity, steam and heating and cooling. Scope 1 is direct emissions from company facilities and vehicles. Scope 3 is indirect emissions, such as business travel, transportation and distribution, leased assets, investments, waste from operations and end-of-life treatment of sold products.

This third goal is a challenge due in part to the variable supply of green power. At times when there is no green energy available, Google’s data centers run on traditional power sources such as coal. The carbon-free energy goal means the company will run on green energy around the clock and move from “emit and compensate” to “absolute zero,” which means the company doesn’t generate any carbon from its business operations.

This means using carbon-free technologies such as large-scale battery storage, advanced nuclear, green hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration, according to a report from the company.