Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, August 8, 2022

Google Adds Another Wind Farm to Energy Portfolio 

Google is being hailed as heroes in green energy circles, as the company revealed this week that they have purchased the entire output of the 240 megawatt Happy Hereford wind farm outside of Amarillo, Texas. The recent move makes Google’s fifth such long-term agreement, bringing the company to more than 570 megawatts of wind energy contracted by the search giant – a figure that is estimated to be enough to power approx. 170,000 U.S. homes.

The purchase, which was announced this this week on Google’s official blog, was made despite the fact that Google will not be relying on a single megawatt from the facility to power Google’s massive IT infrastructure.

“Due to the current structure of the market, we can’t consume the renewable energy produced by the wind farm directly, but the impact on our overall carbon footprint and the amount of renewable energy on the grid is the same as if we could consume it,” said Google in a statement. Google says that after purchasing the renewable energy, they will retire the renewable energy credits (RECs) and sell the energy that the wind farm produces to the wholesale market. “We’ll apply any additional RECs produced under this agreement to reduce our carbon footprint elsewhere,” said the company.

The progressive-minded company says that the purchase agreement represents one of several ways that the company is advancing the cause of renewable energy usage in the countries that they operate. Previously, the company had completed four large-scale Power Purchase Agreements aimed at reducing Google’s carbon footprint down to zero. The Happy Hereford purchase represents its largest single dent to date.

While the company’s intentions are indeed noble, not everyone agrees on whether they’re altogether that beneficial in accomplishing anything meaningful. As Tom Worstall, a contributor for Forbes writes, the reason that Google has to sell the renewable power to the grid (instead of using it themselves) is that wind power is unreliable and hugely variable – a bad combo when running a server farm. At the end of the day, Google is still having to buy their power from the standard, more reliable mix of energy sources, including coal, gas, and maybe some nuclear.

Worstall points out that Germany has the highest penetration of renewable energy of any country, and it’s not clear that they have been able to reduce carbon emissions at all due to the combination of having to have spinning reserve and also needing to dup surplus electricity when the turbines pick up after downtime.

“It is true that Google can say that they’re buying as much renewably generated electricity as they’re using,” writes Worstall, “but whether this actually, as in the German example, reduced emissions at all is a much trickier question to answer. At the current level of technology, quite possibly not.”

Even still, Google will be moving forward with their initiatives. The Happy Hereford wind farm is expected to start producing energy by late 2014, and will provide juice to the Southwest Power Pool, a regional grid that provides power to Google’s Mayes County, OK datacenter.

Expect Google to continue pushing initiatives like this, as well as others like the “Renewable Energy Tariff” that they’re working on in North Carolina.

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