Google has already invested more than $1 billion in its various renewable energy initiatives. The search engine giant already subscribes to wind-generated electricity near its data centers and installed solar panels at its corporate headquarters.
But Google is not stopping there. And Google is not even stopping at Google. Now, the tech titan is investing $600 million to expand its Lenoir, N.C. data center while also pushing the concept of voluntary renewable energy tariffs to allow the local utility to invest in renewable power for the new center.
"We're always looking for ways to expand the use of renewable energy," said Gary Demasi, director of Global Infrastructure at Google. "It's also important to work directly with our utility partners to find solutions that will make more renewable energy available for us and for others."
Google Partners with Duke
As Demasi sees it, the most straightforward way to do this is for utilities to offer a renewable power option for companies that request it. Most utilities don't offer that option -- but that isn't stopping Google from pushing the green energy envelope. In fact, the search engine giant just published a white paper laying out its ideas on how and why such programs might work.
Google also announced its first effort to put this idea into practice. With the expansion of Google's Lenoir data center, local utility Duke Energy has pledged to develop a new program for large companies that want to buy renewable power for their operations, with Google helping to fund it through a voluntary tariff. Duke will file the plan with its state commission within 90 days.
"Offering companies like Google a renewable energy option has many advantages. Because the service is made available to a wide range of customers, companies that don't have the ability or resources to pursue alternative approaches can participate," Demasi said. "And by tapping utilities' strengths in power generation and delivery, it makes it easier for companies to buy renewable energy on a larger scale."
The Tariff Card
Demasi readily admits that this approach has challenges. He pointed to three clear ones: utilities need to work out the mechanics of the service within their local regulatory structure and in many cases state utility commissions will need to approve the programs. Then there's the challenge of finding cost-effective renewable projects.
"We'll continue to find creative ways to supply our facilities with renewable energy, but we think this solution can provide an important new way to increase the use of renewable energy nationwide," Demasi said. "We look forward to working with utilities, state utility commissions, companies and other stakeholders to make it a reality."
In its white paper, Google suggested a renewable energy tariff and said it has many advantages because it lets utilities do what they do best: build power plants, procure power, manage the grid, and deliver electricity to customers.
"Renewable energy tariffs will also have many benefits for utilities and their communities. They will lead to increased economic development as companies choose to locate or expand in markets that offer more renewable energy options," the paper suggested.
"Utilities will improve customer satisfaction by providing new services that are responsive to customers' needs. Finally, offering companies the option of buying renewable power will lead to greater investment in local and regional renewable energy projects, which can provide jobs and opportunity in a utility's service area and ultimately reduce the cost of renewable energy for everyone."