Google pressures largest US utility company to put renewable energy on the menu

Guest Blog | April 19, 2013 | Energy Policy, Solar, Wind

This guest blog was authored by Gary Cook, senior policy analyst at Greenpeace, USA. Google’s own blog can be found here.

Thanks to some pressure from Google, the largest utility company in the U.S., Duke Energy, now plans to offer renewable energy to its major customers.  This will allow Google, who also announced plans today to double the size of one if its largest data centers, an option to power its cloud with clean energy.

Google’s announcement today shows what the most forward-thinking, fast growing companies can accomplish when they are serious about powering their operations with clean energy. They can use their market power to demand better from utilities like Duke, who remain committed to more outdated dirty sources of electricity.

As we have highlighted previously for our Clean our Cloud campaign, which pressures IT companies to power their data centers with clean energy, Google has been making steady progress by bringing renewable energy onto the grid in several of the locations where it has major data center operations.  Google has both bought large amounts of wind energy directly from renewable energy developers, and has also partnered with the local utility to increase their supply of renewable energy.

Goal of 100 percent renewable energy 

An aerial view of the Google data center in Lenoir, North Carolina. The center is located on 225 acres of land with two buildings housing data servers.

Despite this progress, Google had a major dirty energy problem from the electricity it was getting for its North Carolina data center from Duke Energy. Duke currently offers less than 1 percent renewable energy to its customers in North Carolina, with no real plans to change that percentage, not even in twenty years.

With Duke Energy’s announcement to offer renewable energy to its major customers in North Carolina, Google, who plans to double the size of its data center in North Carolina, can choose renewable energy, furthering its goal to be 100 percent powered by clean energy.

How Clean is your Cloud?

As Greenpeace highlighted last year in its report, “How Clean is Your Cloud?” the energy demand of the Internet is growing fast, and Duke has aggressively courted companies to build data centers in North Carolina.  Lacking meaningful options to use renewable electricity to power its Lenoir, North Carolina data center, Google kept its commitment to sustainability by working with Duke to open up renewable energy options.  With today’s announcement, Duke finally appears to be opening the door to renewable energy in a major way.

It’s good news that Duke is beginning to heed their customers’ demand for renewable energy sources. Done right, this Renewable Tariff program could help North Carolina finally realize the benefits of a clean energy revolution, which Duke has blocked in the past.  While we look forward to seeing the important details of this program, today we applaud Google for using its influence to convince Duke Energy to start making real progress on renewable energy.

Starting a clean cloud trend

Google and other major customers like Facebook and Apple who are similarly committed to renewable energy are fast moving and fast growing. With small businesses and residential ratepayers also demanding access to clean energy, will Duke be able to evolve fast enough to meet the demand.

As Google powers most of its data center fleet with clean energy, it sends a signal to other IT companies and electric utilities around the world that renewable energy is not only possible, but also smart business in the 21st century economy.  Hopefully the legislators in North Carolina who are threatening to roll back critical policies supporting renewable energy will stand up and take notice. Both business and customers want more renewable energy, and those states that do not have the policy framework to meet this demand will lose the business of companies of the future to those states who do.

Greenpeace will release its 2013 ranking of Google and 20 other global IT brands on their climate and clean energy leadership, the Cool IT Leaderboard next Wednesday, April 24th.

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