Google commits to sustainability and erasing its carbon footprint

Following on from Microsoft’s decision to undo its carbon footprint, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has announced the company’s sustainability commitments.

Pichai said the company will be eliminating its entire carbon legacy, covering all operational emissions backdated to 2007, when the company became carbon neutral.

In a blog post outlining the company’s sustainability plans, Pichai wrote: “We were the first major company to match our energy use with 100% renewable energy in 2017. We operate the cleanest global cloud in the industry, and we’re the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. 

“In our third decade of climate action, we are going even further to help build a carbon-free future for everyone.”

Along with plans to eliminate its entire carbon legacy, he said Google was making a commitment to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy in all its datacentres and campuses worldwide. “This is far more challenging than the traditional approach of matching energy usage with renewable energy, but we’re working to get this done by 2030,” Pichai said.

“Not long ago, it was hard to imagine a 24/7 carbon-free electricity supply – at a simple level, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t shine at night. But thanks to trends in technology, and with the right government policies, the promise of 24/7 clean energy will soon be within reach.

“To get there, Google will invest in approaches that make it possible for us to source reliable carbon-free energy in all locations, at all times of day,” Pichai wrote in the blog.

Along with the datacentre carbon-emissions goal, he said Google would be investing in technologies to help its business partners and people worldwide make sustainable choices. One initiative the company is working on involves investing in manufacturing regions to enable 5GW of new carbon-free energy. According to Pichai, this will help 500 cities reduce their carbon emissions.

He estimated that the commitments Google announced on carbon neutrality and sustainable energy will directly generate more than 20,000 new jobs in clean energy and associated industries, in the US and around the world, by 2025.

Describing the challenges and opportunities, Urs Hölzle, senior vice-president for technical infrastructure at Google, said: “With the goal to reach 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030, we can demonstrate that a carbon-free economy is possible.

“Our datacentres are large power consumers, and if we can achieve 24/7 carbon-free energy for our datacentre fleet, economically, we can demonstrate that carbon-free electricity grids are within reach.

“We’ve already made a lot of progress, and in the coming years we’ll double down on our efforts. For instance, we recently announced a system that can shift flexible computing tasks to times when power on the grid is cleanest, while in Nevada we’ve proposed one of the world’s largest solar-plus-storage projects. We’re also using machine learning to optimise how wind farms deliver power.”

Hölzle said that Google is developing tools to help its customers measure the impact of migrating to Google Cloud, which reports on their datacentre emissions, and then reduces them.

Google has also developed what Hölzle describes as an Industrial Adaptive Controls platform in collaboration with DeepMind, which provides AI control of cooling systems in commercial and industrial facilities.

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