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Google says it will run entirely on renewable energy in 2017 (nytimes.com)
861 points by danvoell on Dec 6, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 249 comments

This is pretty awesome, Google is definitely leading the industry here.

One of the more interesting things I learned while working for Google was the intricate way in which the "grid" is managed by a separate but co-operating set of entities. Google disrupted that happy bunch by creating a wholly owned subsidiary that was a licensed power company[1]. That gave it standing to buy from and sell energy to the grid and it completely short circuited a lot of crazy negotiations that were going on between Google and various regional power companies. Now instead of having the substation outside the data center owned by the local power company it could be owned by "Google Energy Inc." And Google Energy could buy energy from any vendor connected to that grid.

Most people are familiar with the 'last mile' problem where the connection to the Internet from your house has to go through the local monopoly utility. The same is true when buying power, and this move on Google's part completely side stepped it.

[1] https://www.cnet.com/news/google-energy-subsidiary-considers...

> Google is definitely leading the industry here.

It's fantastic that Google plans to switch to renewables since they are one of the biggest players. Definitely an exaggeration to say that they are leading the charge. Apple was among the first to make renewables an issue and achieved 100% in data centers back in 2013, with little fanfare.


And creating a subsidiary that's a power company is table stakes:


Just to be clear, 7% of Apple's global power is still dirty and they have not made any public commitment to bring that down any further.

Google is a much much larger energy consumer, has been carbon neutral since 2007, and is going to use 100% renewables globally within the next year.

Also, Google made its energy company play back in 2010. Apple made theirs in 2016.

Apple has pressured Foxconn to build out renewable capacity for certain steps of iPhone manufacturing by 2018. There is a lot of work to be done in manufacturing (much harder problem) but they have definitely made a public commitment to reduce the impact:


Let's just agree that both Apple and Google are doing fantastic jobs in this sector, and other big tech companies need to step it up.

Indeed. Let's not drive a wedge where none is needed.

I think the point parent was making was that Google (as a whole, not just data centers) is leading the industry to 100% renewable energy. Something Apple - which is making great advances - is yet to achieve.

100% renewables for their data centers. In the same way that Apple's total power is still partly dirty I'd think some of their offices won't be running entirely off the grid.

It isn't just data centers, they're going to hit 100% renewables for global operations.

From Google's 2016 energy report: "And in 2017 Google will reach 100% renewable energy for our global operations..."

So the Pixels made by HTC are also using renewable energy?


Its not just datacenters, but those are the biggest consumer of energy by a disproportionate amount.

Apple is making great strides towards getting their offices off the grid as well. Their new campus has a considerable amount of solar deployed on-site plus they're partnering with other companies to provide power from off-site.


> Google is a much much larger energy consumer

That seems implausible. The electrical requirements of Aluminum production are extreme. Obviously there's a lot of issues about where one draws the line between the company and its subcontractors and so on, but it seems hard to believe Apple's global energy footprint is not higher than Google's

I didn't know Apple produced its own aluminum.

Apple includes their suppliers, retail stores, offices, and customers' product use in their carbon footprint (in addition to data centers) [1]:

When we measure our carbon footprint, we include hundreds of suppliers, millions of customers, and hundreds of millions of devices. And we’re always looking for ways to make the biggest difference in five major areas: manufacturing, product use, facilities, transportation, and recycling.

[1] http://www.apple.com/environment/climate-change/

Edit: Correction by 3 orders of magnitude because of multiplication error :)

Then lets do a back of the envelope calculation for energy consumption for Apple's aluminum use.

Very roughly Apple sells ~25 million macs and ~200 million iphones per year. Again lets assume that it needs 2kg of aluminum for macbooks and 100g for phones (not all iphones are aluminum and this might be lower), that makes ~70 thousand metric tonnes of aluminum.

Modern smelters use 13KW/h to produce 1 kilogram of aluminum, but their production involves recycled aluminum (and possibly shavings from milling?) so number should be lower, lets say it is 10KWH per kilo.

This makes 70M*10KWh = 700GW/h year

Google's datacenter energy consumption, is difficult to guess, if there are 1 million servers, and assuming each server consumes 10KWH per day, then it makes ~3.5 TWH per year.

This is apples to oranges of course, aluminum vs server running energy costs, but still kinda implies that Google uses more energy, at least directly.

> Google's datacenter energy consumption, is difficult to guess, if there are 1 million servers, and assuming each server consumes 10KWH per day, then it makes ~3.5 TWH per year

FWIW, the linked article mentions

> The 5.7 terawatt-hours of electricity Google consumed in 2015 “is equal to the output of two 500 megawatt coal plants,” said Jonathan Koomey

though they don't mention the source

kWh not kW/h

The question is whether Apple's products affect the amount of aluminum extracted. If it does, then that aluminum's footprint belongs to Apple.

Likewise, you couldn't just keep buying big batteries from third parties to power all your needs, and claim to have no carbon footprint because you didn't make the batteries.

Why? Aluminum production needs a lot of electricity but if you recycle back, costs goes down, total aluminum energy cost of Apple is likely much lower than all those servers running throughout the year.

Recycling rates are generally pretty low. I think the highesst rates have been ~80% for lead (batteries). For aluminium in the US, it's closer to 40% IIRC.

USGS has online reports.

http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/recycle/rec... 40% ~2001

For 2015, it looks as of 30% of supply came via recycling: http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/


Too bad Google's founders fly all over the world on private jets, doing far more damage than these measures prevent.


Now you're just being silly. Yes, I'm sure they enjoy a luxurious transport and it would be more efficient for them to walk or take a rowboat or fly commercial.

But the energy used, carbon emitted, is fairly small for the 1000 or so flights they take relative to the aggregate benefit they're making by buying so much "cleaner" power.

You really ought consider the relative perspective, I don't think their 757 carbon impact compares to the output of a 5MW data center running 24/7.

A 747 in the air consumes more power than every single home in San Francisco.

"A Boeing 747 jet has an average power consumption of 140 megawatts."


You can use this link to see San Francisco's power usage in 2015: http://ecdms.energy.ca.gov/elecbycounty.aspx

It was almost exactly 140 megawatts/hour * 24 hours * 365 days.

I highly doubt Google's worldwide data centers use more power than all of SF.

So, not silly!

Holy shit, is that really what a 747 draws? That is nuts. I worked for a few summers at a powerplant that put out about 40-50 MW/h, burning wood biomass.

As a physicist, I'm always surprised how people generally get units right [1], but they shoot themselves in the foot multiple times over when trying to measure power and energy.

MW/h doesn't make any sense. A unit of power would be MW, a unit of energy would be MWh (megawatt times hour, not divided by hour). MW/h would be a power increase over time, which is surely not what the parent means.

[1] Unless they're in the US, Liberia or Myanmar. :)

How do iPhones get exported from China ?

Air freight.

citation for the assertion "Google is a much larger energy consumer" ?


Google is purchasing 2600GW of renewable energy as of Nov 2016, while Apple is purchasing around 150GW.

Without more detail this isn't useful information.

For example, Apple's global power consumption definitely includes power used in manufacturing, a problem that Google externalizes from this sort of computation.

Cognitive dissonance, it's your problem.

Those were toy datacenters. Your first article does mention the first real one that Apple built in NC and its non-renewable energy sources (Apple had to start buying carbon offsets). That said, I can attest to Duke being a joke, including their DukeNet communications subsidiary, now belonging to TWC.

In Europe Apple are considered far from 'green' due to the problem of the power adaptors.

Every other phone or tablet sold in the E.U. has a sensible power adaptor, usually the mini USB flavour. Apple though, they don't think the law applies to them, or at least not the spirit of the law, so they keep churning out these Apple only power adaptors complete with the cables that fray and break a lot easier than normal cables.

Sure the data centres may be green but the landfill is not. Meanwhile, Google (who have far larger and more useful data centres) have been providing E.U. compliant power adaptors (or lack of) since the first Nexus phones, if not a long time before.

Actually they do follow the EU regulation. It states that the power adapters use the standard USB connector which Apple complies with. What you're thinking about is the cable between the adapter and the phone/tablet/whatever, and that cable isn't part of the regulation, only the power adaptor.

> The European Standardisation Bodies CEN, CENELEC and ETSI (independent of the OMTP/GSMA proposal) defined a common External Power Supply (EPS) for use with smartphones sold in the EU based on Micro-USB. [...] Apple, one of the original MoU signers, makes Micro-USB adapters available – as permitted in the Common EPS MoU – for its iPhones equipped with Apple's proprietary 30-pin dock connector or (later) Lightning connector.[1]

Nonetheless, framing ones' opinion of Apple's sustainability practices on this one pet issue seems quite myopic. The actual sustainability complaint stems from the alleged poor durability, not the choice of connection; but even if we accept that criticism, replacing charging cables occasionally seems like small drop in the bucket vs. the company's environmental impact as a whole.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB#Mini_and_micro_connectors

Kind of buried in the article... but Google is claiming the net of their investments in renewable energy will offset their usage of fossil fuels.

That's different than switching to a new energy source.

Does that change the message for you? As I see it the investments are the leading edge of the change over. So a combination of setting up a way to benefit from available clean energy (being a power company and being able to buy directly from the supplier), and investing in companies that produce clean energy or improve efficiency to keep the market moving so that the late adopters have something to adopt.

Yes, it is leading edge and admirable. I applaud the effort but question the headline.

A Google datacenter near the Columbia River may derive 100% of it's energy from hydro. Google pioneered that practice and many others followed. But their overall real estate footprint relies heavily on local energy suppliers, which may be coal.

Any company making a claim of being 100% renewable, is basically just using offsets.

And offsets are a way the government allows companies to (metaphorically) continue driving down the road in gas-guzzling SUVs, but make investments in renewable energy to offset their footprint.

Ok, I can see your argument, let me repeat it back to see if I got it right.

You argue that by being physically near the Columbia river, a hydro electric plant can be constructed which generates power and sends it directly to a Google data center. But their other properties, some of which are nearer power plants which generate power using fossil fuels can not be considered to be using renewable energy. Is that about right?

If so, I see it a bit differently, if Google builds a concentrated solar plant in the Mohave Desert and that plant puts adds 1200MWhrs of energy to the Western Grid every month, and Google's real estate in California consume 1000MWhrs of energy from the grid every month, I can see that being claimed as using 100% renewable energy. There isn't a specific path of the electrons to the Google buildings but in that scenario Google will have added more energy through renewable sources into the grid than they extracted from the grid[1]

I've got Solar panels on my house and they generate more power during the day than I can use, they generate no power at night. I have them connected to the grid. When I'm generating excess power its probably being used by my neighbors but somewhere nearby a fossil fuel plant is using less fuel because of the power I am feeding into the grid.

Because is is set up this way, PG&E bills me on an annual basis and on that basis the 'net' amount of energy my house uses is quite small, in terms of ratios, over 90% of my total electrical energy usage is accounted for by the energy I generate on my rooftop. I think of that as "90%" of my energy comes from renewable sources, even though every night, at that moment, I'm using fossil fuel sources (or simply the grid). Once I have a couple of PowerWall's install it will get a bit more explicit but I consider both interpretations valid. I'm guessing from your argument that you do not.

[1] You can also argue that the 2nd law of thermodynamics tells us that adding it and then removing it will leave a bit behind so perhaps a draw of 1MWhr might need an input of 1.2MWr in order to offset grid losses to radiation and heat.

> I'm guessing from your argument that you do not.

Frankly I don't think anyone should. It's mental gymnastics to be able to say you aren't using dirty energy when you really are.

Let me illustrate with an example of why you can't get by with 'offsets'.

Let's say Arizona is running on 80 GW natural gas and 20 GW solar. Google wants to build in Virginia, which relies heavily on coal.

So they bring online a 2 GW datacenter in Virginia which is powered by a 2 GW increase in coal burning. They "offset" it by building 2 GW of solar in Arizona, which scales back natural gas by 2 GW.

The result of their 'clean offset' has been the conversion of 2 GW natural gas to 2 GW of coal, which is significantly worse for the environment.

I see what you're saying, but to me trying to phrase it in that way seems more like mental gymnastics than actual double entry accounting in watts.

Would it help if the renewable source had to be connected to the same grid-tie (there are 4 I think in the US) ? Then you're putting renewable energy into the same grid you are pulling it out of.

What if your solar plant in Arizona use the Fischer–Tropsch to make fuel, then you drove it in a tanker across the country and poured it into generators in Virginia?

The way I see it is that watts are watts (just like dollars are dollars) so if the total watts you burn are offset by renewable watts you have put in, then you are ahead. If everyone does that then by definition the entire grid is running on renewable energy.

>Then you're putting renewable energy into the same grid you are pulling it out of.

Right, but they aren't connected to the same grid. Google has datacenters all over the world, connected to all sorts of different grids with different source compositions.

>What if your solar plant in Arizona use the Fischer–Tropsch to make fuel, then you drove it in a tanker across the country and poured it into generators in Virginia?

Sure, but you have to account for the emissions from that whole process as well (emissions of solar + emissions of generating the fuel + emissions of transportation + emissions of burning the fuel).

>The way I see it is that watts are watts (just like dollars are dollars)

Nope, a watt generated on one grid does not spend on another because they're not all interconnected.

Until we solve the energy storage problem, the problem is exacerbated further by continually expanding solar installations in one particular region of the US that will generate more than the consumption for part of the day.

One small point I realized reading your comment here is that you mentioned emissions. The original article is about "renewable" energy, not "carbon footprint neutral" energy. If you had a wood fired power plant, it would be 'renewable' energy, but it would not be 'carbon neutral'. I think it is important to distinguish between the two and both are important.

Ok, if we throw out emissions and just worry about renewable, then the trucks traveling across the country have to also run on the fuel generated by the solar panels for your watts to be fungible across grids.

Well there is no reason the trucks couldn't, it would just affect the overall efficiency (the amount of solar power in to the amount of electricity out).

What do you mean? A wood fired power plant totally IS carbon neutral, as long as the logging is done sustainably (i.e. "renewable"). The trees suck up exactly as much CO2 when they grow up as they emit when burned.

I guess nuclear power is non-renewable but carbon neutral. Cannot think of anything that is not carbon neutral but renewable...wouldn't that require creating CO2 matter from nothing?

Actually nuclear power can be used to make breeder reactors, which uses the neutron flux from a critical reactor to create more fuel, in theory giving them a lifetime that is at least as long as the supply of heavy elements holds out, but if you want to be seriously pedantic then Solar isn't exactly renewable since the Sun has a limited amount of hydrogen to burn and once it runs out it will be very hard on our planet, catastrophically so by all estimations.

There are basically two numbers here:

1. Net usage after selling off excess energy 2. Net usage assuming there is no demand for excess when you have it (maybe everyone on the grid has solar panels)

Achieving 100% in #1 is great and I applaud Google for it. If everyone did this we could drastically reduce overall usage of fossil fuels, but I believe the fear is that people won't know the distinction and will assume "if everyone does what Google does we will all be 100% renewable" and that isn't true.

Can I test an assumption with you? Lets say that "everyone does it", and by that I mean literally everyone on the planet generates more renewable energy on some grid somewhere, than they use on the grids they are using.

That is the definition of 100% renewable energy use is it not? You can't push power into a grid if nobody is using it, they don't work that way. So if the world is using 12.3 TW and 12.3TW is being generated by renewable sources, your done.

If I'm generating 20% more solar energy than I need and resell the excess it to the grid, am I operating at 120% renewable energy?

What about the consumers of my excess energy? Are they operating at 20% renewable and 80% fossil?

If my 20% in excess is counted towards my total renewable energy consumption, and other consumers also claim that 20% towards their renewable consumption, then we're just double counting. No?

One of Enron's many schemes involved creating a logical abstraction layer across physically partioned grids.

I think the lesson learned from that scandal is to keep it simple. On a per grid basis, simply acknowledge that fossil fuel accounts for X% of power, and rally the community behind an honest metric.

Headlines claiming 100% "mission accomplished" will lull most people into a false perception.

While I agree with your base argument, I would argue further that the (substantial) transmission losses at least in the consumed and perhaps in the generated energy also need to be factored in, so a simple x:(x+1) relationship is not quite sufficient for a robust claim of "100% renewables" which is based on offsets.

Yes, it does change the whole meaning of this. Running even just the datacenters in renewable energy alone is a huge technical and organizational undertaking, - maybe on par with Project Manhattan and the Apollo Program. Doing the carbon neutral gimick is, - until hard proof is presented to show actual reduction in fosil fuels usage, - little more than good intentions and financial sophistry.

Don't get me wrong, it is a good thing they are doing at least this much... but in my opinion they are getting a huge, undeserved PR boon out of this. Companies like Oracle could not get away with this, even if they tried. In my eyes, and until hard evidence is presented to disproof this, I think they are still milking all the goodwill from the "don't be evil" motto from yesteryear.

Is it? Intel has been purchasing large quantities of green energy for years. In the last few year it has been 100% of the their overall consumption [1]. Is there any difference in what the two companies are trying to achieve?

[1] https://www.epa.gov/greenpower/green-power-partnership-natio...

Google has better PR.

(I still think their goal and actions are admirable. There are many companies that have been jump started by a major customer pre-buying a product so the company can ramp up manufacturing to fulfill that and other orders. I much prefer this model over government-driven investment as I have more confidence this demonstrates true demand.)

Biomass is considered "green energy"? Why?!

Also that chart is US-only, while the story about Google here is that Google will go 100% renewable energy globally.

Depends on how the biomass is generated, but stuff that was just going to decompose anyway, like pig slurry, might as well be processed into a form that can be burnt for energy.

This is not my area of expertise but is burning something the same as letting it decompose naturally? Seems like burning could release different emissions than just the natural decomposition. How is it processed into a burnable form using 0 (renewable? clean?) energy?

One of the differences is that decomposing happens in the form of Methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas (21x as potent as CO2).

Capturing and burning the methane "downgrades" the potency of the emissions, now only emitting CO2.

Also not my area of expertise, but I think the idea behind the biomass == carbon neutral is that the carbon in those fuels was already in the atmosphere a few year ago, so you are not really tapping into the fosil fuels stored in the Earth's manttle. You can consider this a form of low-tech solar, since the biomass had to ultimatelly use photosyntesis to accumulate energy.

Also, if done sustainably, you have to keep sustaining life forms that keep doing the photosyntesis trick for you every year. i.e. All those carbon atoms in this year's crop of Christmas Trees were in the atmosphere a couple of years ago, and we are potentially breathing out at least part of the crops from the next few years... But if someone goes and cuts down a big chunk of the Amazonas in order to make "bio-fuels", yeah, that's dishonest, stupid and self defeating.

How much does Google spend on energy, percentage-wise w.r.t. (for example) revenue?

Makes sense for very high power users I know that an organisation in the UK (RAE Twinwooods) that ran wind tunnels had a private link to the grid and for the really big tunnels had an arrangement where they would control the wind tunnel by directly controlling the local power station

> “In my mind it’s a P.R. gimmick,” said Chris Warren, vice president of communications at the Institute for Energy Research, a think tank in Washington supported largely by donations from individuals and companies in the fossil fuel industry. “If they think they can actually support themselves with wind and solar panels, they should connect them directly to their data centers.”

I love how the author throws in a disclaimed quotation from a big oil Luddite to help reinforce the message of the article. It's a two-fold sales tactic.

1. Discredit the opposition.

2. Tell the buyer what the opposition will say, after already convincing them of the benefits, so they're prepared to defend what they're buying thereby reinforcing their beliefs.

I'm not implying that the article is wrong, but it's something we should be aware of.

Unfortunately, there is indeed a lot of truth to the statement that it is a PR gimmick.

The problem with wind and solar is that they are intermittent. Therefore, Google's consumption at any particular moment in time cannot be supplied solely by these intermittent sources because their energy output never matches current demand (at least until some big honking batteries are built to level this out, for which the tech currently does not exist AFAIK -- no, Tesla's battery tech isn't even close to operating at this scale, though its a small step in that direction).

Therefore, Google must take power from the grid from non-intermittent sources that can ramp up and down based on demand, such as coal, gas, and nuclear. And this fact will remain true, even if Google had purchased wind and solar contracts for total energy many times greater than their total energy use.

So even though they may be purchasing contracts for wind/solar energy that exceed their own total energy use, they still cannot even approach viable operation without access to non-wind and solar sources, so its definitely misleading by Google to suggest they are running entirely on wind/solar.

Furthermore, the excess energy produced that Google purchased, but did not use because of the intermittency issue, actually reduces the efficiency of fossil and nuclear sources. Because the wind/solar energy is loaded onto the grid intermittently, it forces fossil and nuclear to cycle up and down to compensate. Just like city vs. highway driving, this is vastly less efficient.

Paying to have more renewable energy generated is not a gimmick, it's progress.

It's true that there's a storage problem to be solved. That doesn't mean that every single renewables project needs to solve it or become a gimmick.

The problem is that Google's claim is deceptive. What they are doing is great.

I don't agree it is deceptive, if Google paid for 1GW of renewable electricity to be generated and 1GW is contributed to the grid from renewable sources then everything is as it should be. If the EMF that gets to Google's servers happens to be provided by a nearby coal plant they have still caused 1GW to be produced by renewables. This is how the grid works, and how it has always worked, it's just that no one in the past has cared if it was coal, gas, hydro or something else they were getting it from. Organisations are now willing to pay a small premium to use an equal amount of energy as renewables are generated. Storage matters for the long term goal of a zero emissions grid, but is not necessary for the economics to work out and the benefits to be felt.

Paragraphs 3, 4, and 5 of the NYT article look accurate to me. I have a hard time seeing how anyone who read the article would be deceived.

More than half of the people in this thread think google is running on 100% renewable energy. They have been deceived.

Google is still using dirty energy, they are just offsetting it by returning extra to the grid when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining.

"using" is a complicated word. If you don't like the usual way "using renewable energy" is used for electricity, by all means campaign against it, but there's nothing special about Google or this press release for this usage... and the New York Times article this discussion is about is quite clear.

That's not the "usual way" it's used. If I want to use solar power for my home, I don't contribute to a fund building solar panels on a different continent and claim I'm "using renewable energy". However, that's exactly what google is doing here.

Some people put solar panels on their home, other people pay someone else to install solar panels elsewhere. It's extremely common for businesses to choose the second, even if homeowners mostly choose the first.

Yeah I'm sorry this is complete nonsense, this is exactly how it works and has always worked. If Google pays for renewables to be produced, uses some energy that happened to be produced at a coal plant but someone else uses the energy from the solar/wind farm, then the benefit of using renewables has been materialised. It's not a hard concept, but somehow people struggle with the idea.

I would bet that the article is inaccurate and the majority of this "renewable energy" is hydro. Google has taken great care to place its datacenters in locations that are close to affordable hydro power, and in many cases owns or has long-term exclusive leases on several power-generation plants within existing hydro dams.

Well, it is a PR gimmick. I, for one, am glad for this PR gimmick and wish more companies would adopt similar PR gimmicks.

I agree. I'm perfectly fine with a company "exploiting" their earth-friendliness for image. There are some things more important than the free market.

It's such a ridiculous statement, too. With his logic this guy would have to buy the cow that makes the milk he drinks in his coffee...

It is less ridiculous than you make it out to be.

Nobody forces you to buy a cow to put milk on your cofee, but if you go around offering "organic capuccinos" for sale, your customers could normally expect you to either milk the grass fed cow yourself or, more likely, purchase your milk from a certified provider that does so. They certainly don't expect you to claim that since you make a donation to some Amish charity in the other side of the country, you are entitled to slap a "organic" label to the same brand of industrial milk your competition next door uses and offers at half the price.

I don't see how this should be any different with Google.

This is just utter nonsense and shows a complete lack of how the electricity grid operates.

Does it? I rather think that your criticism shows a complete lack of awareness of how the the public opinion operates.

Let's say for the sake of the argument that Google's datacenters consume 1% of the electricity in the US.

If Google were operating its datacenters with clean/renewable electricity produced on site, it means the technical problems are, for all practical purposes, already solved; and now everybody can just license their technology an imitate them. There still remains the economic and political problem of having the other 9x% of the country to jump on board, and invest the required resources to convert to renewables, but that's simply a matter of how much money is devoted to that. It could take us 100, or 50, or 20 years, but we'd know for certain that we will eventually get there.

Instead, we have Google claim to be operating their datacenters with clean energy, but instead they operate with whatever mix of clean&dirty energy is available from the local provider, and then go elsewhere and finance the production (let's say, same amount of kilowatts/hr) of renewable energy. That is still a good thing, since those investments would never had been done without the incentive, but there are 2 problems with that.

1. You call electricity "fungible", but it is not. You cannot generate the same amount of solar kWh per dollar in Alaska than in Arizona, the same way you cannot generate the same amount of hidro kWh/$ in Arizona than in Mississipi. By following economic rules, it is rational to assume that Google is picking the low hanging fruit first. Therefore, when the other companies try to emulate, they will find that the second 1% will be more expensive than the first, the third than the second, and so on...

2. The other big whale in the room is that renewable electricity, unlike coal-based, cannot be produced on demand. Until the problem with storage is solved, - and for what I have heard from people that has been doing this for many years it is far from solved, - you will need some form of fosil fuel to close the gaps when production is low. It is very easy to add 1% renewables to the general "fungible" pool of electricity in the grid, but 5% would be less so and I don't think it would be possible at all to do 50% with current technology, even if the production capacity was already in place.

So, what do you think? are my concerns really nonsense, or ridiculous?

Yeah, or maybe Big Oil is just pretty evil.

I'd say the opposition right now is mostly Big Coal. If all coal and oil electrical generating capacity shut down and were replaced by renewables + gas it would be a net win for the oil and gas industry, because oil is a tiny fraction of electricity production and coal retirements boost gas demand. Gas is a flexible electricity source and a good complement to renewables. But a decade from now natural gas might be facing a significant competitive threat from renewables + storage.

Big Coal and Big Oil work together far more often than not. Extensive renewable energy would eliminate the massive profit of power utilities and refineries both.

I would have agreed with you a few years ago, but coal producer antipathy toward O&G has increased a lot since fracking unleashed the cheap gas that has been eating their lunch. At the same time gas producers have softened their stance against climate action, calculating (correctly) that in the short-medium term coal-to-gas switching in the name of climate action can send a lot of new natural gas demand their way. As for the long term, either they don't care yet or don't really believe that natural gas and oil will eventually be in line for replacement too.

>gas producers have softened their stance against climate action

They simply pretended that they were "cleaner" than coal and gas, which isn't really true:


they're doing this financially, not through infrastructure building. the plan is to purchase equivalent dollar value of credits from renewable electricity suppliers. this highlights a significant issue: grid power is fungible and power sources are indistinct from the end-user's point of view.

is there some kind of auditing authority that can actually guarantee that the money spent is actually going towards electrical generation and isn't just slush-fund cash that financial holding companies play around with while nominally saying "green energy"?

The technical term for this is "additionality", making sure they pay to add renewable capability, not just use up a share of the renewable energy that was already being produced and Google accounts for it when planning their purchases.

They give some details on this here:


There's a REC market, and "production" of those certificates is tied 1:1 to input into the grid, which is metered and monitored by the applicable interconnect (as a necessity for its operation).

When you purchase these renewable energy credits you're essentially bidding up a bonus for producers of the appropriate energy, above and beyond the price they got for the electricity itself. Google has entered some long-term contracts for the acquisition of these credits from renewable energy providers, which in the short term bids up the price of credits for everyone else and in the longer term leads to more and larger renewable energy producers.

Also note that Google isn't doing this entirely via the credits markets — it's also reducing its usage and where applicable is working with energy providers to create nearby generation.

This article is far more accurate and helpful: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/google-will-ach...

Unlike carbon-based power, Mr. Kava said, wind supply prices do not fluctuate, enabling Google to plan better.

Can someone explain this? It seems like wind energy prices should fluctuate based on weather patterns (more wind == lower prices).

Once you spend the capital on wind turbine hardware and infrastructure, the price of your energy generation is fairly constant. Price on energy supply from fossil fuels always depends on the fluctuating price of those fuels, which introduces uncertainties to future costs of energy.

Price = where supply and demand cross. If there's no wind, supply goes down, so with constant demand prices will go up! That's disregarding second-order effects (e.g. other providers marking up their prices to make bigger profits, or the wind-power provider increasing its prices in the future to make up for the lost income and provide a nice return on investment).

You can predict the supply of wind, as an average over a long enough period of time, much more easily than you can predict the supply of oil.

But will that prediction enable you to scale demand? With increasing hardware lifecycles, it might one day be economic for a global like Google to overprovision datacenters enough to be able to shift compute load to wherever intermittent energy is available. Requests can be routed over much longer distances than energy. But I suspect that Moore's law just isn't dead enough yet to make it economical to keep large datacenters offline just to wait for locally favorable energy prices. And on this scale, economical is a pretty good first approximation of ecological.

"You can predict the supply of wind, as an average over a long enough period of time, much more easily than you can predict the supply of oil."

Over the long haul, yes, but in real-time - no. And electricity prices to fluctuate a lot over days, weeks etc..

But indicating that 'price stability' is a point for green is not really fair, when it's almost always going to be considerably more expensive.

Knowing that something is going to be 'consistent, and consistently more expensive', I don't think is a good argument for green.

There are other, better arguments.

Wind power is already cheaper than coal, at least in Australia, even when you ignore the cost of building the coal plant (it's been way cheaper for a long time if you factor in the initial construction cost), and solar will soon reach the same crossover point.

> Over the long haul, yes, but in real-time - no. And electricity prices to fluctuate a lot over days, weeks etc..

You'd deal with this the same way you deal with it in every other commodity market, futures contracts.

Yes, of course, but a futures contract definitely adds cost, is my point.

Google is in effect doing the same thing as 'buying a future' and it's unreasonable for him to make the argument that this is 'inherently a better thing about green'.

I could buy a futures contract for Oil today and would it be fair for me to say 'Oil is has more stability in prices'?

The difference is you know the supply of wind. It fluctuates with the weather, but on average you know if you have X windmills you'll have Y joules, the risk in future contracts is a lot smaller, and priced accordingly. The oil supply is a lot more complicated, and the risk priced into future contracts is priced accordingly.

Ok, I see that.

But Oil shouldn't fluctuate too-too far between $50 and $120 a barrel. And that's just the raw costs. With all other components, which costs will be more fixed, the actual end price of fuel should not change more than 40% in either direction, max.

I'd argue that the greatly varying costs of wind installations, aggregate availability, huge one: supply and demand for electricity overall, specifically for renewable electricity - regulator changes, improvements in technology - definitely create a situation wherein the 'end cost' of renewable electricity is somewhere in the range of the variability for fuel produced by other means.

Wind farms are almost always constructed with Power Purchase Agreements where utilities agree to buy 100% of the output from the installation at a specific price. These prices in Texas / Oklahoma / Iowa are usually under $0.03/kWh.

There are a lot of people selling and buying oil, thus changing the price every second. But there's no person looking at the wind and wager at what the "wind price" would be! You can never change your price if you wrote it in the CONTRACT, Google would be stupid if they don't cover it in the contract and let their Wind Farm builder change the price, because it makes zero sense.

" But there's no person looking at the wind and wager at what the "wind price" would be!"

Uh, sure there are, they are wagering on weather, which is a very common thing to do in various commodities markets.

> There are a lot of people selling and buying oil, thus changing the price every second.

I have never heard before a theory that greater market participants necessarily increase volatility. Can you cite a source for this please?

From a long-term point of view, the cost of the wind energy is just the depreciation of the turbines plus the maintenance costs on the farm. Those two dollar inputs will create a fairly predictable number of kilowatt hours output. The problem of getting those kwh when you want/need them is one of selling into the grid when you have them and buying out when you need them, but I guess from the point of view of Google, they are calculating: we will consume X kwh, so we need to build X khw, and wind provides a very predictable source of those kwh. Macro vs micro.

> From a long-term point of view, the cost of the wind energy is just the depreciation of the turbines plus the maintenance costs on the farm.

A minor detail, but don't forget the cost of transmission. My understanding is that the US has massive wind energy potential (http://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/30m_US_Wind.jpg and http://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/80m_wind/USwind300dpe4-11.jpg) but it's not necessarily near the most densly populated regions. Building and maintaining these transmission corridors is not an insubstantial cost.

Theyre writing long term contracts for power production which provide a fixed price for the resource developers and by consequence provide them with a fixed cost.

Typically, these types of contracts, providing price certainty, are required to build develop new renewable assets.

This. Price doesn't fluctuate for the purposes of this article because they've bought a minimum amount of electricity for a fixed price over time. (not because price of wind power never fluctuates)

Similar pegged pricing can be achieved if you trade futures to hedge your price but typically this is only achievable year to year and difficult to do with electricity as it can come from so many different sources and hedging against them all may be difficult. Perhaps there's a megawatt future out there?

EDIT: Yup - regionally-based electricity price hedge. Cool! http://www.cmegroup.com/trading/energy/#electricity

This is the correct answer. Price hedging is a typical feature of corporate PPAs (power purchase agreements). The aim is to reduce risk for both parties. All the other answers here are speculating without knowing how corporate energy procurement works.

It seems the author is using the phrase "do not fluctuate" to explain wind supply prices in the same way most people think, or assume, the value of the dollar does not fluctuate.

Everything fluctuates, but some things are less prone to wild fluctuation, by quite a large margin.

I think that statement makes sense in the context of the fossil fuel markets.

As others have mentioned, it is a narrow definition. The idea is that the only fluctuations occur due to uncontrollable factors (weather) which, in all fairness, do impact carbon-based power too (to varying degrees).

So a war in the middle east or a trade embargo won't impact the price per kwhr. Whereas a tornado would impact both wind and oil (even if just by slowing down the deliveries).

I would argue that wind (and solar (not so much hydro)) are much more susceptible to weather impact, but with sufficiently large capacitors/batteries that can be minimized.

Weather fluctuates, but climate is relatively stable. As long as you have some kind of storage and base-load supply, you can plan yearly wind-power usage based more around climate than weather, at least to my understanding.

this has much more to do with the locked in rate utilities/the state demands when Distributed Generation (like wind and solar) are feeding into the grid. 'wind energy prices' is vague - not sure if it is getting at the relatively low fluctuating cost of standing up a turbine, OR the flat rate wind suppliers are paid for generation (like google)

Google is ahead of the game here. Other tech companies also are moving to renewables but they're not at 100% yet (IIRC). The key point is that as cloud computing becomes commoditized and people build tools to quickly transfer from one cloud provider to another, the profit margin will become smaller and smaller until energy costs dominate the cost to provide a service. It is already the case that a machine will use more in energy costs than its capital cost over its lifetime.

So, whoever has the cheapest power will be able to provide cheapest services, or charge more for capacity located in more energy-expensive regions (for latency).

Apple (smaller server park, but does that matter?) claims 93% over 2015, so they can't be far behind. http://images.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_...:

"For starters, as of January 2016, we’re sourcing or generating enough renewable energy to cover 93 percent of the electricity we use at our facilities worldwide. In fact, Apple is now 100 percent renewable in 23 countries, including China, Germany, Singapore, and the United States. We’re also 100 percent renewable at every one of our data centers. So whenever you send an iMessage, download a song from iTunes, or ask Siri a question, the energy Apple uses doesn’t contribute to climate change.

In the past five years, we have reduced the carbon footprint of Apple facilities by 64 percent thanks to our clean energy use, avoiding over 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions. We’re working hard to reach 100 percent renewable energy for all of our facilities worldwide, and help our suppliers in China and everywhere around the world make the same transition to clean energy as we have."

Check out the graph here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-05/waging-am...

Yeah, they rank on the list, but they're pretty far behind.

As I said: “smaller server park, but does that matter?”

I don’t think the thing to judge by is who consumes the most renewable energy.

> whoever has the cheapest power will be able to provide cheapest services

One of the reasons the UAE pitches itself as a data centre site.

Yes, because servers love hot, humid, dusty climates!

Perhaps more importantly, because of the necessity for data centers to always be reliably online, this could help push for better grid-level energy storage solutions, the true Holy Grail of sustainable energy.

Renewables are effectively second-class citizens in the energy world until they can match the reliable storage capacity available from dead dinosaur.

I agree that they are ahead of the game. Combined Cycle Gas Turbine generators are still the most economic way to produce electricity... though carbon tax and renewable subsidies do tip the scale in some markets. I don't think they are purely doing this for cheap electricity... at least not right now. I believe in what they are doing, and think it will help facilitate a transition to more efficient renewables eventually, but I don't believe they are doing this for the economic benefit right now... it's a good PR move that could also pay off financially in the long run... in my opinion.

"So, whoever has the cheapest power will be able to provide cheapest services"

While it's a good point, I don't entirely agree with it.

More apt: renewables are not cheap. They are very expensive in almost all parts of the Western world.

I was simply shocked to read that Google as a whole consumes as much as a whole metropolis. The fact that they're going green, is awesome on their part..!

I am equally surprised... that they only consume one metropolis.

I'd expect much more than that given the size of their operations. i.e. just running the entire world.

"I was simply shocked to read that Google as a whole consumes as much as a whole metropolis."

Considering that they employ ~70k people, plus the hardware to run their business, that sounds about right.

Microsoft's new US-East datacenter expansion will be over a mile long.

Considering they provide significant computing resources for the entire world it's not that surprising.

Why datacentres are not massive consumers compared to some energy consumers my first job had a single experiment that had from memory 2x .25 MW pumps - and blew out the electricity supply for Cranfield uni when we did the first test run.

You know my whole thing is about sustainability and looking to technology in the near future to shatter the conventional wisdom and assumptions of capitalism (and other systems) from the last several decades?

It's not as simple as saying you support companies doing this voluntarily. I also support that, very much so. But the governments have put up legal hurdles because in the past they "protected capitalism" and now just stand in the way.

State courts are used by telcos to sue cities to prevent Google Fiber from coming into the city, to protect the profits of the "private" interstate corporation from the "public" city.

Drug discovery and many other things are hampered by patents to protect the "intellectual property" of pharma corporations from the "freerider" researchers and public funding that would discover new cures.

And so forth and so on. The legal departments and regulations of the old capitalist system (set in place to protect innovation at a different time) is in the way of open source and open innovation of the 21st century.

And the biggest lie of course is jobs, that demand for human labor will never go down and that enough money will always trickle down to the plebes via wages.

For Google to say that it will run entirely on renewable energy is not accurate. Thank goodness only the headline of the article says that, but the article explains that Google gets electricity from the grid--which is not 100% renewable.

It may not be "accurate" in a naive technical sense but it's not disingenuous. KWh are fungible and electrons don't care who uses their voltage potential for work as long as it goes somewhere. Every KWh that Google produces with solar is a KWh the fossil fuel power plants don't produce CO2 for, which is the entire point: a net zero impact on CO2 emissions for one of the largest pieces of computer infrastructure in the world.

Electricity is fungible. Google is expecting to contribute back as much renewable energy as they are consuming from grid sources.

I would expect their usage to be higher if they were trying to store renewable power to maintain a base load, but that doesn't seem like enough to outright dispute the article/claim like this.

Perhaps a more accurate formulation would be "all of the money Google spends on electricity will go to renewable production".

I wonder to what extent Google can shift calculations around in time to take advantage of fluctuations in power generation. Serving cat videos might be something you do all the time but indexing the web and training Go AIs doesn't have to be a continuous process.

I'm pretty sure they can't turn the tap off when it comes to web indexing. And I also doubt the major cost for google is electric power for the machines doing the indexing - the power bill is probably negligible in the big picture of Googles business (if not I'll stort their stock)

It doesn't matter how the power bills compare to their overall bills, what mattes is how much power costs compare to hardware costs in terms of whether it makes sense to shift those things that don't have to be done in realtime.

The title is misleading. They will not run entirely on renewable energy. Instead, they are buying at least as much renewable energy as they are consuming in total. So Google might pay for 1 megawatt of solar power going into the grid, but actually pull 1 megawatt of fossil fuel power.

This is more than a nitpicking point. The reason why renewable energy isn't a totally viable energy source is because of problems with reliability, predictability, geographic concentration of production, etc. It is highly misleading to give people the impression that an operation like Google can actually operate directly off exclusively renewable energy.

What Google is doing will eventually hit a cap and become zero sum. You still need fossil fuels (or nuclear) to support a reliable and dispersed grid, and can therefore only have a a certain percent of the grid powered by renewables. So if you want your company to "run entirely on renewable energy", you'll end up in a bidding war with other companies that want the same thing, to be the technical purchaser (not consumer!) of the renewable energy going into the grid.

> The reason why renewable energy isn't a totally viable energy source is because of problems with reliability, predictability, geographic concentration of production, etc. It is highly misleading to give people the impression that an operation like Google can actually operate directly off exclusively renewable energy.

That's true in general, but not if you can choose where you are using the electricity. If your datacentres are in Iceland (geothermal), the Middle East (reliable solar), certain parts of Canada, or Norway (hydroelectric), you could actually run the systems entirely off renewables. I agree though that buying 1 unit of renewable power for each unit that you use is a much less meaningful action. Not to be sniffed at, but not what is being implied.

They also buy in the general location of their datacenters. It doesn't always match up exactly, but they are aiming for slightly better than just a purely numerical correspondence.

Good point. And I don't mean to suggest that their actions aren't admirable, they are! I'm just a little frustrated at the misinformation, and resulting misconceptions, floating around concerning renewable energy. These misconceptions have political and economic consequences.

>"It’s good for the economy, good for business and good for our shareholders".

Let's be honest...it is not good for their shareholders. They are buying power at a significant premium and costing their shareholders money. It is a direct hit to the bottom line. This might be good for the environment - at the very least they are helping renewable energy companies get bank financing through purchase guarantees, which will advance the technologies being used and perhaps one day make them economically viable. But to say it's good for shareholders is disingenuous.

>"In some places, like Chile, Google said, renewables have at times become cheaper than fossil fuels."

I love all of the hedging that comes with any article that tries to paint renewables as economical. This sentence has holes a truck could drive through. It could literally mean that at one point, years ago, Chile had extremely high gas prices for a week and Google was amazed that their bill for that week was lower than it would have been with conventional power sources.

Unsubsidized wind power is driving nuclear power and coal out of business. Unsubsidized! Solar is still a bit more expensive, but will continue to decline in price each year.

Investing in solar on your roof, in most markets, in a better investment than the S&P500 (EDIT: Utility solar has costs approaching 2 cents/kwh and still declining). Google is doing their shareholders a service by hedging their energy costs, no different than when Delta (the airline) bought a refinery.

Google doesn't own these wind farms etc. They aren't investing in anything, and their shareholders aren't getting anything in return. They are paying a premium and hoping that the companies use the Google-provided profits/financing flexibility to advance the technology to the point where it will hopefully one day become economically viable. That day of course is not today, which is why I take issue with some of the statements in this article.

Ultimately, Google is doing a service for the world if in fact these companies use Google's support as intended. There are probably more effective, direct routes for a company of Google's size though - they could easily just roll out their own renewable energy research division, and then shareholders would own the resulting technologies. The approach that they are using doesn't seem logical to me, and then trying to spin it as if they are doing shareholders a favor by overpaying for power seems like they are making a bad mistake even worse.

> Google doesn't own these wind farms etc.

Of course not. That'd be a pain in the ass. That's why they sign PPAs (power purchase agreements) that entitle them to the power from those generators (usually on 20-25 year contract terms). Think reserved instances at AWS. You're paying to commit to a resource usage. What does AWS do with that money? Buy hardware and provide the service to you. You simply make a payment.

> They aren't investing in anything, and their shareholders aren't getting anything in return.

I disagree with you, as do the facts.

I disagree with you, as do the facts.

Show me what they can put on a balance sheet in the end.

There is value to signing a long term PPA that guarantees a set price of electricity for 10-20 years. For example, if Google powers a data center using wind power PPAs, they know exactly how much the electricity for the data center will cost over the life of those PPAs. If they power the data center with natural gas and coal-generated electricity bought through normal electricity markets, their electricity prices will change if the price of natural gas or coal change. Having more certainty into future operational costs is valuable because it allows you to make better informed decisions/investments. Plus, many wind power PPAs are being sold for less than the wholesale cost of electricity now, so they save that way too (recent PPAs signed in Texas are a great example).

There's negative value to them if those PPA's are overpriced relative to conventional power. This article seems to reluctantly admit that they are indeed overpaying in most markets most of the time. "We saved money that one time in Chile" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the economics of renewables at the present time.

Wind power is very cheap, even in the US. Several utilities in Texas offer free power during nighttime hours because of it.

I assure you, these PPAs are not overpriced.

Well, it all depends on the definition of good. Shareholders are people too, and for now, live on planet Earth and are thus affected by Google's energy usage. Also, from a economic perspective, the good can come from e.g. brand acceptance (and other indirect sources).

I'm guessing it really is good for shareholders in the simplest terms of dollars too; unsubsidized wind and solar electricity have only recently started to reach cost parity but with tax incentives the PPAs being signed really are less expensive than long term contracts for fossil electricity. So it's good for the environment and good for shareholders. (I'd be more sympathetic to complaints about the tax credits offered to renewable energy if we could go back to the beginning and eliminate all tax credits offered to fossil energy too, plus properly account for their externalities, but since that's going to happen when hell freezes over I'm fine with adding another layer of tax incentives for renewables.)

If Google believes that running off renewable energy will help protect their business in the future then this is good for shareholders. Shareholders care about the future value of stock, so if running off fossil fuels is deemed a business risk and this can mitigate that risk then it is good for the value of the stock.

Of course in the short term it might impact the bottom line but so long as the business trajectory is positive and Google's stock continues to be perceived as a good investment then that shouldn't matter.

And your issue with the line: "In some places, like Chile, Google said, renewables have at times become cheaper than fossil fuels."

Meh, it's PR, take it with a grain of salt and remember this isn't a peer reviewed paper.

"I love all of the hedging that comes with any article that tries to paint renewables as economical."

Generally all you have to do is account for all the costs. Just like dumping pollution into a river can seem economical from the point of view of the dumper, but not from the point of view of the people who live in the area.

The bit you quote is presumably going even further, and saying that even without taking into account the wider costs, it still makes economic sense in that narrow sense.

> Let's be honest...it is not good for their shareholders.

perhaps it's not good for short term profit and volume, but don't equate that with shareholders please.

The context, I believe, is that the energy deal is a fixed, predictable cost. Shareholders like predictability.

Who will use Google's products and services when highly populated coastal areas are underwater?


It may good for shareholders in a more nefarious way (PR).

Every time I see this "doing anything green is bad for shareholders" meme, it involves an assumption that PR is worthless. If that's not what Google's leaders think, than the complainers should buy a different stock. Free market and all that.

If someone believes PR (advertising) is worthless, and also owns Google stock, they've get much bigger issues...

Renewables require that the production and consumption of energy be governed by a packet routing paradigm very similar to TCP/IP.

Google is already in that business.

Monetizing it in the energy sector will be very, very good for shareholders.

I'd say helping to not wreck the global climate in which their shareholders (and customers!) live is good for shareholders.

Monetary transfers or asset appreciation aren't the only ways to provide value.

Another energy feather in Google's (and Dell's) cap was evangelizing on server room temperature. Recommending allowing air temps to climb up to 95F cuts a lot of the air cooling energy use. It also makes it more comfortable for those of use doomed to work in a chilled server room.

Is anyone discussing _reliability_? as in Google/Apple/etc are making this move not just "to be green" but to ensure that they do have power without being subjected to the whims & issues of providers when they're just one of many customers? When you have literally hundreds of millions (billions?) of customers, you want to ensure your own resources are absolutely reliable (within your, not someone else's, requirements).

It's like me wanting to put solar panels on my roof: I'm not so much interested in cost savings, but want to ensure a massive grid failure doesn't take my household with it.

You do realize in the event of a grid failure your solar panels don't work? You can either be grid tied or off grid.

Doesn't a battery give you some leeway to swap freely between buying/selling electricity off the grid and running-off-grid-from-battery?

Yes it acts as a sort of firewall between the two systems. But at that cost you may as well just have 2 systems. One off grid and one grid-tied given you have the space.

They arent running directly on renewables, but paying others to use as much renewables as they would use

I'm actually surprised that Google hasn't been more involved in micro-grid technology. One company here in town basically runs on its own grid with a combination of renewable energies and electricity they generate on their own:


The main difference between the OATI Microgrid Technology Center and other commercial office buildings is that OATI will generate its own electricity as the primary source of power. The building is powered by:

- Natural Gas turbines: 600kW Capstone C600 natural gas burning microturbine. Paired with absorption chiller and heat exchanger for CCHP

- Solar: 150kw rooftop solar array, with additional expansion array planned

- Wind: 24kW of vertical axis wind turbines

- Electricity storage: 231kWh, at 125kW Ensync battery rated power and energy

- Generator: 1500kW of diesel backup generator

- Utility connection: Connected to local utility Xcel Energy

Several years ago, I was very perplexed by Google investing in renewable energy. It was only later that I realized they use so much energy that this would have to be the wave of the future for tech companies like them. If they don't use renewables, they'll be subjects to the whims of energy markets similar to airlines. (Yes you can hedge, but even that is a bet)

Very forward looking of them!

It's certainly a good thing they're doing, but really all they're doing is bidding higher than other companies on renewable energy, and since we don't have unlimited renewable energy (only as much as we have wind turbines and solar panel arrays &c), all they're really doing is shifting renewable energy usage from smaller companies to themselves. It's not like they're creating renewable energy or anything, they're just changing where it goes.

But at least they're going to create a greater demand to hopefully create a greater supply sometime soon, plus they're paying into the renewable energy economic machine.

No, Google has been signing power purchase agreements with renewable energy developers. The signed agreements are what developers need to build new solar and wind projects. It's new renewable demand driving new supply.

This is great progress and congratulations to Google. But Google and every other tech company is effectively still running on non-renewable energy by virtue of importing most of their hardware from places where manufacturing is done mostly with fossil fuels. All of us are outsourcing our pollution and CO2 production.

You have to start somewhere.

Moving manufacturing and infrastructure from "dirty" to "green" is a transition process. It's infeasible to modify the entire supply chain to be non-renewable in one shot.

The entire world's economy is incredibly intertwined. The entire manufacturing stack won't be purely renewable until the entire world is running on renewable energy.

You have to start somewhere.

In today's world, you have to make an effort to not fart with a bad carbon footprint. Most of your personal emissions will be ingested air. (Not methane, as most think.) However, the fertilizers and pesticides in the food you ate to make you fart, plus the heat to cook the food, and the industrial input it took to make the cooking implements and the kitchen the food was cooked in -- all of these have a carbon footprint.

It's precisely as you say. We are in transition. It's naive to point out that anything "green" still has a carbon footprint. I need to find a definitive article that makes the case for this idea so I can link to it every time I see the naive argument.

Lead poisoning in Kenya due to battery recycling and poor environmental regulations is my usual go-to:


One step at a time. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

Data centers are an easier target because you have more flexibility. And to provide a counterexample, Apple recently pressured Foxconn to power certain parts of iPhone manufacturing with renewables by 2018. We'll see if the two companies deliver on that goal.


> One step at a time. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

And on the flip-side, don't let good stop you from reaching perfect. This is a good step and one that should be applauded, but at the same time recognising that there is still work to be done is valuable.

For a company that contracts out their hardware working with their vendors is more admirable to me than having their datacenters run on clean energy. Hopefully Apple and Foxconn can deliver on this.

Most of the lifetime CO2 footprint of data center hardware is from the operational phase, not manufacturing. This (somewhat dated) paper from Dell indicates that 90% of the CO2 footprint of a rack mounted server comes from the usage phase: http://i.dell.com/sites/content/corporate/corp-comm/en/Docum...

That's right, with the numbers looking similar when looking at proportions of energy consumption in buildings which is slightly different from just CO2 footprint.

The operational phase is where to look at having the largest impact. In buildings looking at a 75 year time frame you have the operational phase accounting for 94.4% of life cycle primary energy consumption. Where the manufacturing phase such as production of building materials, transportation and constructing the building accounts for 2.2% of life cycle primary energy consumption. [1]

1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378778803...

The hardware for green energy production included, like solar panels... Since they don't last for ever and need lots of energy to be produced, I wonder how long it takes to just get even.

It varies considerably with the installation location.

Modern panels in decent locations are under 4 years.


California in general is a fantastic location for solar. Only places like Nevada and Hawaii are better.

For Solar it obviously depends on a lot of factors (where you put them, which technology, where it is produced), but it's in the range of 0-4 years, depending on which study you look at. Common lifetime is ~20-30 years.

See e.g. https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/de/downloads/pdf-files/aktuell... http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35489.pdf http://www.volker-quaschning.de/datserv/kev/index.php

Feels like I've been quoted a 20-30 years lifetime for solar panels for 10 years straight now. They degrade, but they don't break.

Do we have more data now? Because I think solar panels will easily do 50 years with >50% of original output.

There's a mixture of degradation mechanisms at work. Some of them, like light induced degradation to the actual cells, can reduce output but can't really destroy the system. Other mechanisms really do "break" the module, e.g. backsheet delamination, accidental or malicious breaking of cover glass, or extended partial shading that leads to thermal runaway that can melt solder and/or put holes in the backsheet. As soldered connections age, weaken, and fail they can lead to thermal runaways that destroy neighboring cells too.

I believe that there are already some panels in the field that can last 50 years, and that it will become more common in the future, but 20-30 years is the safe, evidence-backed estimate for now.

The story I got when my panels were installed is that they don't know because they haven't been around long enough. Efficiency constantly improves, and panels deteriorate, but the company installing mine hasn't really seen an effectively end-of-life'd panel yet.

Thanks, I was really worried recently that it was still much worse than that but didn't have the numbers. Glad to see great progress is being made there.

I'm wondering if there are solar panel factory working entirely on solar energy. I'm not counting logistics of shipping manufactured panels to the customers for now.

Electricity is fungible though. Why does it matter? By virtue of the product they're putting out they're saving significantly more lifetime fossil fuel resources than they're using.

It does not matter. It's just nice. Maybe not as much as self-hosting compiler or 3d printer able to make copies of itself. Of course electrical energy alone is not enough to build a solar panel, but it's just pleasant for the thought.

Yes, but they could easily offset that by producing more renewable energy than they consume and selling it on the market.


We're not shitting on anything. Google has done a great thing. There is still more work to be done.

I don't have to feel guilty when using google services anymore!

So if they increase the energy supply by investing/purchasing in renewable energy that would increase supply which would bring their energy costs down hypothetically?

Note Google in some cases does sell electricity generated from their wind/solar investments to the locals and new FERC order allows anyone who has DG to sell into wholesale markets. Sometimes their investment is near a data center so it hits the same local feeder, othertimes they say 'we can't do DG near the data center, so lets do it somewhere else that offsets the data center demand'. This is where the renewable energy credits come in and make the long term strategy worthwhile

the headline is quite misleading when you consider most google data centers still getting power from dirty sources - the 40% reduction in data center cost is impressive though (whoo AI!)

Doubtful. You have a captive audience, so why would suppliers suddenly lower their prices?

Wondering if any residential provider in the world is offering a service where you can say "sell me only renewables". There'd probably be a cost associated with this, but I think I'd have to consider it if it were available locally.

In Houston, the "Oil and Gas Capital of the World", I buy 100% wind power from Green Mountain. They're not the only game in town for 100% renewables, either. Green Mountain themselves do have mixed plans, but mine's 100% wind. It's not the cheapest power in town (some retail electric providers go below $0.04 per kWh for the first year of your contract or such if you don't care) but with Texas by law having a competitive retail electricity market there's a lot of choice.

I have a hard time believing this. What does Green Mountain use when the wind dies? Do they have a grid storage solution?

They probably just trade it. Increase their supply so they can sell enough excess back to the grid to make up the cost later. You effectively get 100% wind, but in reality you might have got 80% wind, 20% gas and sold some wind back to the grid. It's a good interrim solution at least.

As problems stated, there's probably a bit of arbitrage going on behind the scenes. However, Texas also has a well connected grid across the rather large state that is only weakly connected to other grids. There's a lot of wind in Texas and a lot of wind power. On an average day 12% of the entire state is powered by wind. Some days it's 40%. Sometimes wind produces so much energy that the spot price goes negative and wind farms are paid to disconnect so they don't overrun the transmission system.

In the US it depends on the provider and state, but there are lots of providers that offer a renewable tier (maybe not 100%).


The prices are 1 or 2 cents higher (per kilowatt) in many areas.

Found this in San Francisco: http://sfwater.org/index.aspx?page=96

Definitely going to make the switch to the

> 100% renewable energy – for a 2 cent per kilowatt hour premium over current PG&E rates

I think Arcadia Power is available nationally, I believe it was 1.5c/kWhr very cheap. It's the same REC offsetting that Google is doing, just at a much smaller scale.


It's so common here in NYC that there's a scam where people go door to door, trick you into believing you're signing up for 100% wind power, and then jack up prices after a few months.

These are quite common here in Germany.

What's the cost increase like? Do you know anyone doing it?

Cost depends, I just used some random price search site to compare a few things, I hope that's somewhat useful data. Assuming 3500 kWh/year yearly price would be

    1095 € for the local "default contract" [1]
    1060 € for a one-year contract from the local default provider
    1080 € for their "eco option"
     792 € for the cheapest offer overall [2]
     855 € for the cheapest 100 % renewable
    1040 € for a reputable 100 % renewable provider that has the certification supported by most environmental organisations
[1] with no minimum contract length, generally relatively expensive since they are the "lazy" option and you can switch out at any time. Basically, if you don't have any other contract they are legally obligated to give you this one.

[2] (which is tricksy, since it is a package deal with massive overage fees, not mostly a flat fee per kWh like the others)

So there is quite a potential for savings by picking the right provider, and high-quality eco options are among the more expensive ones, but if you do research you probably can find a compromise you like. E.g. the expensive eco providers often earmark 3 % or so of the price for long-term investments in building their own projects, instead of only reselling electricity provided by others, which of course adds on top and some people want to support. Some accept biogas as a power source, others don't.

And since many people never cared and pay the default deals, when they think about switching for eco reasons the shock isn't as big, because they often can save and get something 100 % renewable. Many people are willing to pay 20-50 € extra and go for that if available. The expensive options obviously have fewer customers, but I know people from all categories.

"means other companies of a similar scale will feel pressure to move" - Not sure if that pressure is real, especially with a new president not really committed to renewable and sustainable energy adoption.

> Next year, it said, all of that energy will come from wind farms and solar panels.

When I read 'Renewable' on the title, I thought they would use hydroelectric energy too. Nice to know I was wrong.

They might be using some form of pumped hydro -- it's a common storage technique for wind and solar farms.

Is this Google U.S or Google worldwide that will run entirely on renewable energy? Google has offices and data computing centers worldwide so I am reading this as everywhere.

Are there public-facing data on the total energy footprint of an Amazon/Google/etc datacenter, including the lifecycle of the hardware hosted there?

Greenpeace has some basics but not that level of detail. http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/click-clean/

Part of me hopes this will help drive a nuclear renaissance too: we can power an aircraft carrier, why not a submarine?

They definitely do have nuclear power submarines :).

The issue is not submarines, it's computers, lights, cars for the rest of us.

Google has a side-show project I think related to nuclear, but it's an extremely regulated thing so it's hard.

Google is definitely leading the way! Now if only we can get our municipal fiber and self driving cars sooner..

So if they are still getting their power from the grid, who uses the renewable energy that they purchase?

The grid itself. So in the end it pretty much means that they're actually running on renewables. If everyone does what Google does, the utilities could just stop producing fossil fuel electricity entirely and the world would actually consume zero electricity from fossil fuel. You don't have to be a monk to master mindfulness and meditation.

Thanks. Does this mean that Google is essentially subsidizing the cost of producing renewable energy, and if so, does that then mean that the consumers of the renewable energy end up paying less because of said subsidy? I'm just trying to follow where that money is actually going and how it's actually shifting overall usage from fossil fuels to renewable.

Renewable project developers want long term power purchase agreements (PPAs) so they have predictable revenue for projects they plan to develop. These are agreements that go something like "for the next 15 years, we agree to buy up to X megawatt hours per year from your project for Y dollars per megawatt hour." There are other ways to sell output from renewables (like bidding output directly into the electricity spot market) but developers overwhelmingly prefer PPAs. Google has signed a bunch of PPAs: https://cleantechnica.com/2016/01/29/google-signs-225-mw-win...

Once the developer has signed PPAs they can finance the up-front construction cost. PPAs enable the construction and operation of new renewable energy projects. Of course the output of large scale renewable facilities is mixed with other sources of electricity in a transmission system; it doesn't directly replace coal. (But this is true of any electricity project in a competitive market: when a company builds a new natural gas plant, they don't detach the transmission wires from a competitor's older coal plant and attach them to the new gas turbine.)

Instead it's pricing effects that indirectly decrease use of dirtier fossils when a grid adds renewable capacity. Solar and wind plants have very low variable costs; they'll supply every MWh they can to the grid, and get paid for every one of them via the previously signed PPAs. But fossil generators have significant variable costs for fuel and for labor[1], so when renewables are producing high output there may not be enough demand to cover the marginal costs of production. Fossil plants reduce or stop production when that happens, so they burn less fuel and produce less emissions. Fossil plants with high enough marginal costs may shut down for extended periods, like some plants that are only used for e.g. meeting peak demand during the winter heating season. Costs rise over time as aging equipment needs additional maintenance or full replacement. Fossil plants with high enough costs eventually can't turn a profit even serving the peak-demand-season niche and are completely retired and scrapped. Even if an old coal plant is replaced by a new coal plant, it's still an environmental win to get the old ones shut down, because (even under the new president) a coal plant that starts construction in 2017 won't get the weaker grandfathered pollution standards of one constructed in 1957, and the newer plant will produce more electricity per ton of fuel due to technical advances.

[1] At least coal plants have significant labor costs. Modern CCGT natural gas plants are quite labor-thrifty too.

You are missing one point though, that the cost of non-renewable energy goes up when there is no renewable energy in the grid often very significantly.

Effectively renewables have an externality cost of their own: they make "reliable" sources of power much more expensive.

Imagine that wind/solar power supplies 25% of the grid's needs - this means 75% of the time you need a gas power station to fill in the lulls in production. Fine.

Then imagine you triple the amount of renewable energy on the grid to 75%. The gas plant is now only operational 25% of the time, but still requires capital cost of construction and maintenance to be ready to go. Ok, it doesn't need as much fuel but apart from that you have tripled the cost of the plant.

So the problem is that it becomes uneconomic to build the electricity generation that stabilises the grid and makes it possible to have any renewables in the first place.

We're now seeing huge premiums being paid to companies by the various electricity grid operators to cover this problem. This then goes on ratepayers bills to cover "distribution" or "grid reliability". And it then turns out your $0.03/kWh wind is not actually that at all and gets more distorted as more wind gets generated.

We need better energy storage options before renewables really will fulfill their promise.

I didn't mention effects of 75% grid supply from wind + solar because no major grid is operating at that level. Most grids are significantly below 25%. The US as a whole is currently at 5-6% of all electricity consumption from wind + solar. (I know there's not a single unified grid across the US, but still.) I expect that storage is going to be significantly more mature by the time the US reaches even 25%.

After energy they might focus on more landfills because of electronic waste.

Is it Google US only or all offices

Green Earth, Our Earth :)

umm, so do I! I only buy green power from PG&E!


My thoughts exactly :) It's not like "politics" has the same impact that the latest season of Game of Thrones has, or the latest Futball results. Law and government define how businesses can operate, and public sentiment for or against a cause can make a company look good or bad and thus garner regulatory scrutiny or passivity.

From a technical perspective, all energy is the same. The renewable nature of energy only becomes meaningful when viewed through a political lens.

No politics on HN this week I thought?

Hilarious that pointing out to techbros that a political story is political gets you flagged and killed. More indication that what HN means by "politics" is "anything techbros don't like thinking about".

Please don't use sexist epithets on HN.

So it's going to spend money to make it look like renewables make economic sense? My reading of it is that this is a PR move more than anything else.

There's a considerable amount of embodied energy and embodied pollution in Solar Panel and Wind Turbine construction.

I think this is lost on most people in Silicon Valley.

The full life cycle emissions-equivalence impacts of solar/wind are much lower than any fossil source, so reminding people of the embodied energy feels more diversionary than informative. The IPCC's 2014 median estimates indicated that the heaviest-lifecycle renewable source (utility scale solar PV) has only 9.8% of the impact of the lightest fossil source (combined cycle gas turbine). Onshore wind power has only 2.2% of the impact. (For comparison with coal the numbers are respectively 5.8% and 1.3%)


Yes, but there is also a considerable amount of energy involved with extracting fossil fuels, refining them, and delivering them between those steps and the end users.

And there are so many pollution externalities: increased risk of disasters like spills, and people who get respiratory diseases/cancers from breathing polluted air and die early.

Got a better alternative?

They have billions but aren't sponsoring scholarships for graduate physics degrees like Boeing or any "corporate" company does.

If they want to see their 10xs breakthroughs (which they sure talk a lot about) they should be throwing money at condensed matter physics research and just support in general for physics. Its easy to get a 10x in software but energy is a whole different game.

That way the smartest people won't have to decide between taking a high paying engineering/programming job or going into physics.

It all comes down to probabilities and the amount of people in the field is really the best approach towards making a breakthrough.

high paying code writing or going into physics/engineering.

Engineering is much different than software architecture.

One requires hard sciences competency, whereas one you can go into for years with none, and be successful.

But when the smartest undergrads are looking at potential career choices they see engineering and CS as means to a good life.

Without the support and money from companies who care, many will choose the highest paying option

I think you will find that doing what google does at scale does require some "hard science" :-)

Exceptional case. Most don't.

And considerably more in using fossil fuels.

Grid shifting takes 30-80 years and is usually only partial.

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