As consumers press companies to be more conscious of their environmental impact and sustainability, corporate procurement of renewable energy has gained momentum around the world. Some 130 companies have signed the RE100 pledge to make their operations run on 100% renewable energy. One of the companies that started this trend was Google.
Google’s First Renewable Steps
In 2010, Google started a journey to replace the electricity it uses with renewable sources by signing its first power purchase agreement (PPA) with a 114 MW wind farm in Iowa.
To ensure that its purchases have a meaningful impact on the environment, Google has followed the concept of additionality, which means that all the electricity it buys is funding new renewable energy projects.
In 2017—2.6 GW over 20 projects and 7 years later—Google announced that it reached its 100% renewables target. This is a massive achievement, especially considering that Google began these plans when grid parity was little more than a dream for wind, and solar energy was a technology that only rich Californians and Germans put on their roofs.
My Challenge to Google
While Google’s achievement should be applauded, I believe it is possible to move that target further afield. It is true that Google is buying all its electricity from renewable sources, but it is unlikely that all the electricity it is using comes from renewable sources. This is because solar and wind, Google’s choices for renewable sources, are both variable, while Google’s electricity demand is not. In other words, there are times and locations when Google must use electricity that comes from traditional sources, while simultaneously the electricity generated from the renewable projects funded via Google’s PPAs is curtailed and lost.
So, here is my challenge to Google (or any company willing to accept it—looking at Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) to move its energy program forward:
- Work with the 20 projects it has funded to ensure they have onsite storage, which reduces the chance of curtailments and increases impact on the grid. This also means the balancing cost is not passed to other ratepayers.
- Ensure all energy assets (distributed generation and loads) are part of demand response programs or virtual power plants, which makes the flexibility of these resources open to grid operators.
- Make sure any new electricity procured is locally generated, and has no impact on the grid (or that the sites at least fulfill bullets 1 and 2 above).
- Encourage employees to take their own energy consumption choices along the same journey!
Major Companies Should Continue to Set a High Bar
This is not an easy challenge, but it’s also not impossible. It’s probably as difficult as the goal to achieve 100% procurement of renewables seemed in 2010, when Google embarked on this mission. Google addressed these concepts in a white paper released in 2016, but mostly in a future tense. In my opinion, the technologies and regulations to make this possible are already here and are starting to reach scale. Now it is up to Google and other visionary organizations and individuals to make this happen.
Tags: Carbon Emissions, Distributed Energy Resources, Energy Management, Finance & Investing, Renewable Energy, Solar Power
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