Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Friday, November 28, 2014
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Meeting the Green Challenge Google-Style 

Between the data explosion and the mainstreaming of cloud, datacenters have taken on a new prominence. They are the modern-day factories of our information-driven society. But keeping all that IT equipment running doesn’t come cheap. And while hardware prices continue to fall in sync with Moore’s Law, energy costs make up an ever-expanding share of the OPEX pie.

Geography-driven site selection might be perfect for temperature control, but for keeping the machines powered on, there are renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydro-power, that will help companies maintain their green standing. Google is on the vanguard of this movement.

Earlier this week, the Web giant announced it will supply its Finnish datacenter with renewable energy from a Swedish wind farm. The 10-year project is Google’s fourth long-term agreement to power its datacenters with renewable energy worldwide, and its first in Europe.

Nordic wind energy developer, 02, has been given the green light to build a new 72MW wind farm in Maevaara, located in northern Sweden, using 24 highly efficient 3MW wind turbines. Google committed to purchasing all the electricity that the wind farm produces for 10 years. Financing is being provided by German insurance company Allianz, which will assume ownership of the site when the wind farm comes online in early 2015. O2 will continue to manage the wind farm.

The arrangement is possible because of Scandinavia’s integrated electricity market and grid system, Nord Pool. As the electricity from the Swedish wind site is pumped into the Nord Pool, a credit is issued via a Guarantee of Origin certificate. Google is free to power its Finnish datacenters with an equal amount of energy. Afterwards, it “retires” the certificate to show that it’s used the allotment.

Google has maintained carbon neutrality since June 2007. Its goal is to use as much renewable energy as possible in the hopes that doing so will further invigorate the industry.

“The Maevaara wind farm not only allows us to make our already highly energy-efficient Finnish data center even more sustainable, it also meets our goal of adding new renewable energy generation capacity to the grid,” observes Francois Sterin, Senior Manager, Global Infrastructure Team at Google.

This news comes on the heels of another major clean energy investment from the Mountain View-based Internet company. Just last week Google announced it was putting $12 million into a 96-megawatt solar power plant in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, near Postmasburg.

The Jasper Power Project will be one of the largest solar installations in Africa, capable of generating enough electricity to power 30,000 South African homes. Project partners include SolarReserve, Intikon Energy and the Kensani Group with additional backing from Rand Merchant Bank, the Public Investment Corporation, Development Bank of South Africa and the PEACE Humansrus Trust.

Google is confident that “South Africa’s strong resources and supportive policies for renewable energy make it an attractive place to invest.” Last year the country had the steepest rise in clean energy investment in the world. Google’s decision is a response to the project’s transformative potential. The IT giant is drawn to projects that will fortify the renewable energy industry and “move the world closer to a clean energy future.”

Rick Needham, Director of Energy & Sustainability at Google, writes:

While today South Africa is primarily dependent on fossil fuels, there’s lots of potential for renewable energy – it’s a country blessed with abundant wind and solar resources – and the government has set an ambitious goal of generating 18 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2030 (as a comparison, the entire South African grid is currently 44 GW).

To meet this goal, the South African government has established the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP). Through the program, renewable energy projects compete on the basis of cost and contribution to the local economy to be awarded a contract with Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned energy utility. Jasper and the other projects being developed through the REIPPPP have the potential to transform the South African energy grid. And given South Africa’s position as an economic powerhouse in Africa, a greener grid in South Africa can set an example for the whole continent.

Google has so far dedicated $1 billion to renewable energy investments. While most of these were in the United States, Google has recently been expanding into other areas, such as Europe and now Africa. The company explains that lack of financing has stymied efforts to expand renewable energy programs, so Google redirected its efforts into buying power directly from the local utility providers and wind farms.

In January, Google handed over a $2.65 million donation to the Energy Foundation, to help “support policy reforms that will lead to more intelligent energy use.” Google has also been working to influence major utility owners. Company officials convinced Duke Energy, the largest US utility company, to offer a clean energy option to large customers in North Carolina. Interestingly, this could benefit Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Google, IBM and Wipro, who all operate in North Carolina too.

Working against the status-quo to effect real change propelled Google to the top of Greenpeace’s Cool IT Leaderboard – a rarified position that it shares with Cisco. The annual report acknowledges global IT companies who embrace and promote clean energy solutions.

“As Google rapidly expands outside of the U.S. as well, most recently in Asia and Latin America, it will be critical to the company’s 100 percent renewable energy goal that it brings the same combination of investment and policy advocacy to bear in these expanding markets,” Greenpeace remarked in its report. “Google can also bring that combination to bear in specific regions of the U.S. where it has data centers but faces monopoly utility companies who offer little in the way of renewable energy to its customers, such as Duke Energy in the southeastern U.S.”

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