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Google’s Sustainability Search Includes Carbon-Free By 2030

If you wonder how ubiquitous Google is in our lives, consider this: The internet giant processes more than 3.5 billion searches a day, according to industry data crunchers. That’s about one search a day for every two humans on the planet – and each of those searches requires energy to process. If Google has its way, someday those searches will all be processed with clean energy thanks to an ambitious new plan to run its entire business on carbon-free energy within the next decade.

The initiative was announced last fall in a blog by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet. His goal? “Eliminating our entire carbon legacy, effective today.” If that sounds like a wide-reaching plan, you’re right: it is. The internet giant is not only committing to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy in all of its global data centers and campuses by 2030. It will also invest in technologies designed to help partners and others around the world make sustainable choices, and contribute to more than 20,000 new clean energy jobs by 2025.

Google’s carbon-free energy program was developed in part to help prevent the kinds of catastrophic climate events that have struck a personal note with Pichai. As he pointed out in his blog, his childhood home of Chennai, India, was ravaged by flooding a few years ago. More recently, wildfires raged not too far from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and spread up and down the West Coast.

“The science is clear: The world must act now if we’re going to avert the worst consequences of climate change,” Pichai wrote.

This isn’t Google’s first rodeo when it comes to major sustainability initiatives. In 2007, it became the first major U.S. corporation to become carbon-neutral. In 2019 the company filled more than 60 percent of its global hourly electricity needs from wind, solar, and other carbon-free sources.

Meanwhile, Google has moved its focus from purchasing power directly from wind and solar farms to financing the construction of new renewable-energy facilities. As Greentech Media noted in September, these facilities include 1,600 megawatts’ worth of wind and solar projects to be built in the U.S., Europe, and Chile.

To reach its goal of becoming a carbon-free company by 2030, Google’s first step will be transforming all of its data centers and campuses so they can operate on renewable energy. The company’s data centers power its myriad products and services, which means every email sent through Gmail, every query made on Google Search, every YouTube video, and every route taken with Google Maps will one day be supplied by clean energy around the clock.

Doing so might not be easy. Pichai noted on his blog that “the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t shine at night.” The key to Google’s success depends on a combination of new technologies and the right government policies. One strategy is to invest in ways to access carbon-free energy in all locations and at all times, such as pairing wind and solar power sources together and increasing the company’s use of battery storage.

Google is also researching ways to apply AI to optimize both its electricity demand and its ability to forecast that demand. These efforts alone should help create 12,000 jobs by 2025.

“Importantly, we think our work can accelerate the availability of clean energy in communities worldwide, and help to solve challenges that have held back its ability to become an around-the-clock source of energy,” Pichai wrote.

Google’s other goals include the following:

  • Spurring investments that will enable 5 gigawatts of new carbon-free energy across its key manufacturing regions by 2030, which is enough clean energy to offset emissions equal to taking more than 1 million cars off the road each year. The company expects this effort to spur more than $5 billion in clean energy investments and create more than 8,000 clean energy jobs.
  • Helping more than 500 cities reduce 1 gigaton of carbon emissions per year by 2030. Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer already helps more than 100 cities track and reduce their building and transportation carbon emissions and maximize renewable energy. The company is expanding the tool to 3,000 cities worldwide.
  • Helping its partners reduce carbon emissions through wider use of machine learning, which basically means getting computers to act without being programmed for a specific function. Google has already used machine learning to lower the energy needed for cooling its data centers by 30 percent. In partnership with British AI company and Alphabet subsidiary DeepMind, Google Cloud is making this technology available for use by airports, shopping malls, hospitals, data centers, and other commercial buildings and industrial facilities.

Google’s strategy sets it apart from sustainable programs used by other tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft, which are mainly offsetting their carbon emissions from electricity through purchases of renewable energy, investments in reforestation efforts, and other initiatives. There aren’t a lot of details yet about how Google will accomplish its goals, and how much the effort might cost. But one way Google looks to help pay for eco-friendly efforts is through sustainability bonds designed to help drive investment in environmental initiatives such as clean energy, green buildings, clean transportation, and circular design. In August of 2020, the company issued $5.75 billion in sustainability bonds, which was the largest-ever corporate issuance of its kind.

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