Today, Google owns more than 20 data centers around the world. And together, all these data centers consume approximately the same amount of electricity as the whole city of San Francisco.
Only during 2020, Google used 15.5 TW, most of which is due to the energy consumption of its data centers. According to Google executives, as the usage of the Internet itself constantly grew during the past years, the energy used by Google grew as well. They have now declared this as one of their major concerns and have set the ambitious goal of having Google data centers run on 100% carbon-free energy by 2030.
Alphabet and Google’s CEO, Indian-American Sundar Pichai, has compared the aim of building a sustainable economy and solving climate change to the dreams and endeavors that led to the landing on the moon in 1969. Yet, unlike the moon landing, he has warned, there will be severe consequences if we fail to achieve this one.
How Google will rise to the challenge
According to Google, these plans are not exactly coming out of the blue. First of all, they claim to have gone carbon neutral as early as 2007, meaning that their carbon offsetting projects balance the carbon emissions that come as a result of their energy use. Later, in 2017, they were able to match their total energy use with renewable energy purchases. But being able to operate 24-7 with carbon-free energy roughly 8 years from now is a much more challenging goal, one that will demand one of the greatest efforts in the successful history of the tech company.
There are two key elements that Google will need to address if they want to rise to the challenge of their own plans:
- Increasing the efficiency of their data centers. That evolution can be tracked through a measurement called PUE, or power usage effectiveness, which is the outcome of dividing the amount of energy used by the data center by the total energy used by the computing equipment. Ideally, this number should be close to 1. Currently, Google’s PUE is around 1.1, while the average for data centers around the world is 1.57.
- Aside from energy efficiency, the carbon-free goal requires that the sources from which the energy comes are clean power grids. This will require coordination between Google and the local governments of the regions in which the data centers are located, to intensify and accelerate the regional grid’s transition.
For younger generations
There is a lot at stake. As we know, there is over 97% consensus among scientists that say climate change is a challenge that we need to address aggressively and urgently. Luckily, some of the biggest and most powerful companies worldwide are listening to the demands of their users and customers, especially younger generations. Likely, the example set by a company as big, prestigious, and influential as Google will inspire others to undertake more carbon-free and environmentally-friendly actions.
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