Earlier this year, Google’s New York City offices started running on clean energy from upgraded hydropower installations. Building on other recently announced clean energy solutions in the Bay Area and Europe, these deals mark an important step toward our commitment to operate our offices — in addition to our data centers — on 24/7 carbon-free energy (CFE) by 2030. Collectively, all of this work is part of our goal to maximize our contribution to the decarbonization of power grids worldwide.
So what does it take to operate a carbon-free office? We asked Liz Schneider, who manages CFE for our real estate team.
What makes running an office on clean energy different from something like a data center?
Data centers operate around the clock, and each hour tends to have a consistent electricity load, which helps us predict how much energy we need when creating a clean energy deal.
But compared to a data center, office energy use is harder to predict on an hourly basis. The times and ways people use an office are dynamic and unique. Weekdays, weekends, holidays, mornings, middays and evenings all have very different electricity loads. Offices with labs using lots of computing power differ from those with marketing teams. And hybrid work has led to entirely new energy trends.
So predictability matters. What are some other factors?
One is regional differences. We have offices in nearly 60 countries, often in major cities, and the electricity grid is a lot cleaner in some areas. Energy regulations and the availability of regional CFE options also vary. Who controls a space is another factor. Some of our offices are leased, so who controls the HVAC system? When you add up all these factors, the office CFE picture gets complicated quickly.
How do you sort through all these factors to create a clean energy plan?
First, for a given office we forecast how much electricity we expect to use for every hour of the next few years. Then we work with energy providers to match these hourly needs with a clean energy source connected to the same grid we operate on. This is the challenge and opportunity of sourcing local clean energy. Often we need multiple sources — after all, the sun doesn’t shine at night, but hydropower systems are still running. So we might buy X many megawatt hours of clean energy from a wind farm, Y many hours of solar, Z many hours of hydro, and so on until we hit our hourly energy goal.
What are some regional benefits of clean energy?
Anything we can do to bring new clean energy sources onto the electricity grid is good for everyone. For example, when you offset office carbon every hour, you’re reducing energy demand from local power plants that rely on fossil fuels. Over time, that might result in plants running less often or even being decommissioned, which translates into lower costs, cleaner air and other benefits.
Another benefit of creating new local energy infrastructure is that other local companies or office developers can potentially use it, too.
What can others learn from our approach to office CFE?
Not every company operates data centers, but most organizations have offices, so we’re working with advocacy groups and thought partners to make CFE easier for anyone to achieve. We released a case study on our Silicon Valley Clean Energy deal to demonstrate how companies can work on CFE with local energy providers. We’re working with organizations to help cities understand CFE options, and we’re working with other customers, utilities and policymakers to design new green tariffs that enable cost-effective access to CFE for customers of all sizes. We’re also working with partners to streamline the CFE contracting process.
What else are we doing beyond CFE to operate offices carbon-free?
A lot! CFE is just part of the picture. Our other strategies for operating carbon-free offices include generating clean energy on-site through rooftop solar, electrifying our heating systems and kitchens, and shifting our energy consumption to lower-carbon periods of the day through geothermal energy and other measures. Decarbonizing offices is tough, and we need all kinds of solutions and innovations to get there.