Going Green by Going Google

Going Green by Going Google

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Google doodle for Earth DayFrom mowing it’s Googleplex headquarters’ lawn with a herd of goats to proposing a $4.68 trillion plan for changing alternative energy policy in the United States, it’s clear that Google’s commitment to sustainability has more significance than just another PR stunt.

The heart of Google’s green policy pivots on a single premise: What’s good for business can also be good for the environment. This is why Google decided to cool their massive internet data center in Hamina, Finland with recyclable sea water, reducing its energy consumption by up to half of the standard data center. But there are plenty more ways that google lived up to it’s commitment to sustainability and carbon neutrality.

To date, the ad-driven internet giant has invested approximately 780 million dollars into clean energy projects, and has only resorted to buying carbon credits as a temporary measure for offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions.

In the field of solar power, for example, Google has already made two significant contributions.  The first was a $280 million investment in SolarCity, a company that grants up to 1,000 homeowners the opportunity to lease photovoltaic installations at a discounted rate, with savings of up to $100 a month compared to standard electricity. The second was a $168 million investment in BrightSource Energy’s “Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System” (ISEGS), located in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The project is one of the largest solar installations to date and is set to produce 392 MW of energy over a 25 year life span.

Also located in the Mojave Desert is the Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC), which when finished and operating at max capacity will deliver 1550 MW of power direct to homes and businesses via Southern California Edison (SCE). The power-purchase agreement with SCE will help guarantee that California reaches its “33% of electricity from solar energy” goal by the year 2020. Google has a $55 million stake in one leg of the AWEC project—the Alta IV—under a “leveraged lease” agreement. The agreement allows Terra-Gen, the company managing the project, to pay back the up-front costs to Google at a later date while still maintaining control of the center’s operations today.

Photo by John Stone, eyeclectic.netGoogle has also dipped its fair share of funds into building the backbone for the massive Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), which will permit the transmission of steady offshore wind power from the mid-Atlantic coastline through a “superhighway” of power hubs and sub-sea cables. In addition, Google also has a $38.8 million investment in two North Dakota wind farms, and a $100 million stake in the Shepherds Flat power project in Arlington, Oregon. The project in Arlington will be the largest of its kind, and is expected to produce 845 MW of wind energy in another power-purchase agreement with Southern California Edison.

Google’s technological innovations are also providing people with the information necessary to make better decisions about their environmental impact from global to everyday scales. For instance, Google PowerMeter is an online app that allows homeowners to track the cost of their energy usage in real time.  It provides detailed information about baselines and spikes in electricity consumption, giving occupants the opportunity to see just how much juice it takes to run the refrigerator or turn on a light bulb. An additional feature estimates the annual budget for a household’s electricity bill, prompting users to alter their usage habits to save money.

Through Gfleet, Google’s employee car sharing program, the company has pioneered the “largest EV corporate infrastructure in the United States” by transforming a fleet of 30 Toyota Priuses into plug-in hybrids using A123 Hymotion battery conversion kits. Over 200 charging stations have been implemented to power the hybrids with many more in the works, with the goal of electrifying 5% of the Googleplex’s parking spaces across the life span of the program.

Google maps has also gone green, in that it now features live transit updates for public transport in 7 major metropolitan areas—including Washington DC, San Diego, and Boston—helping commuters get to their destinations on time while simultaneously encouraging a smaller carbon footprint through alternative transport. The app is available on all desktops and laptops, as well as on mobile phones equipped with Android 1.6 through “Google maps for mobile.”

Lastly, scientists around the world are utilizing the Google Earth Engine as an invaluable tool for studying the effects of climate change, deforestation, and desertification. Google is planning to donate 20 million CPU hours over the next two years to allow scientists access to their cloud computing resources.  Researchers will then have the means to sort through terabytes of information and high resolution satellite imagery to accurately monitor, report, and verify changes in the Earth’s environment.

Photo credit: NREL What else is up Google’s green sleeves? Of particular interest is an ambitious $4.68 trillion proposal that lobbies for policy change on alternative energy in the United States by 2030. The comprehensive plan calls for an 88% reduction of fossil fuels used in electricity generation, a 44% decrease in vehicle oil consumption, and a 49% reduction in national C02 emissions over a 22 year period. It predicts that current demand for fossil fuels can be replaced by a mix of renewable energy alternatives and the mass production of hybrid plug-in vehicles, ideas which the company itself has put into practice. Though the initial cost of the proposal is estimated to cost $3.86 trillion, the return on savings is estimated to be an even greater $4.68 trillion, where the majority of the costs will be carried by private institutions and businesses.

While other software companies have pledged to go green in the present by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 30%—including Intel, Sun, and Oracle—Google seems to have its engines set on changing the future itself by searching for better business practices, investing in clean energy, and taking creative steps towards environmental stewardship.


Jericho Fulgencio is an intern at GreenAnswers, where he informs eco-curious citizens of breakthrough news. He graduated with highest honors in Literature at UC Santa Cruz for his research on hip hop and globalization, which you can read by going to his blog here.