Each year, Google consumes as much energy as 280,000 homes to fuel its powerful networks of servers and buildings.
If all this electricity came from coal power plants, then Google’s environmental impact would be staggering — coal is the dirtiest form of energy. But over the past decade, Google has been switching over to renewable sources, minimizing its effect on the planet and boosting an industry that needs all the support it can get.
And now it’s promised for all of its energy to come from renewable sources in 2017.
“We are the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world,” said Joe Kava, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure told The New York Times. “It’s good for the economy, good for business and good for our shareholders.”
It’s not like Google has its own solar and wind farms — although the company’s Project Sunroof is trying to get sun panels on every house in the US by doing all the legwork for customers.
Instead, Google tells its energy providers to only send it energy from renewable sources. Since Google’s energy bill is gargantuan, this financial commitment allows energy companies to fund new renewable sources, expanding the volume of renewable energy available, lowering costs for everyone, and making it more viable to construct new projects in the future.
Since Google’s infrastructure — huge warehouses of servers — is scattered all across the US, it is able to affect many energy markets. Google’s reputation as a trendsetter will also spur other companies to make similar adjustments to their energy portfolios.
Businesses consume about 25% of the energy consumed in the US and other tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft are trying to go fully renewable as well, but Google’s pace is unmatched.
The corporate world’s push for environmental sustainability could mean that renewable energy is inevitable in the US, regardless of who is president. If the biggest economic players are investing in and pushing for renewables, then the rest of the economy will eventually follow.
Recently, 365 US companies and investors wrote an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump emphasizing their commitment to fighting climate change.
“Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” the companies said in a joint letter. “But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness.”
This shift also helps to reframe the conversation on climate change. In the past, environmental sustainability was cast in moral and ethical terms. By casting it in economic terms, the grounds for reasonable dissent vanish.
While the energy consumption of ordinary people is negligible, you, too, can ask your energy provider to only send you energy from renewable sources. Not all providers participate in such schemes, but it is becoming increasingly popular and the more people who vote for clean energy, the more incentive there will be to abandon coal once and for all.