In Oklahoma, when the wind comes sweepin' down the plain, it will power Google's servers. The giant Internet company today has cut a deal with a local utility to provide wind energy for the power grid supporting a large Google data center in Pryor, Oklahoma. The environmental group Greenpeace hailed the agreement as a model for how cloud computing firms can influence electric utilities to boost their use of renewable energy.
Google's deal with the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) will provide 48 megawatts of wind energy from the Canadian Hills Wind Project in Oklahoma. This will be the first wind energy project for GRDA, even though Oklahoma is among the top 10 states in the country for wind capacity. The agreement is notable because it shows how large customers like Google can play a role in promoting the adoption of renewable energy by local utilities, according to Gary Cook, Senior IT analyst for Greenpeace.
"Google’s announcement today shows what the most forward-thinking, successful companies can accomplish when they are serious about powering their operations with clean energy," said Cook. "Google faced a local grid mix of over 50 percent coal power for its Oklahoma data center. But as a major electricity customer in the state, Google worked with its local utility to secure a significant new supply of renewable wind energy."
Working With Utilities, Not Wind Farms
In its previous bulk purchases of wind power in Iowa and Oklahoma, Google has worked directly with wind farm developers, rather than utility providers. These agreements stimulated new production of renewable energy by providing a large customer to purchase energy generated by the wind farm, with Google playing a role normally occupied by utilities. This approach has helped Google create greener grids for its data centers, but also meant that Google needed to enter the energy business.
Gary Demasi, Director of the Global Infrastructure team at Google, said the company has been working with GRDA since its Oklahoma data center opened its doors in 2010. In February, the utility approached Google about purchasing renewable power from the Canadian Hills Wind Project in Oklahoma.
"This agreement marks the first time we’ve partnered with a utility provider to increase the amount of renewable energy powering one of our data centers," Demasi wrote on the Google blog. "We’re excited about this collaboration because it makes the most of our respective strengths: utilities like GRDA are best positioned to integrate renewable energy into their generation mix and to deliver power; we’re a growing company with a corporate mandate to use clean energy for our operations in a scalable way. We’ve been working closely with all of our utility partners to find ways to source renewables directly, and we look forward to working with other suppliers to deliver clean energy to our data centers."
More Collaboration Ahead?
Are there more of these agreements in the future? Earlier this year Google data center executive Joe Kava said renewable power purchasing agreements could work on a larger scale, giving a greener tint to the power supporting the growth of the Internet, and boosting the viability of new companies seeking markets for renewable energy.
"I’d like to challenge the industry to pool its resources,” said Kava “Why can’t we, as an industry, form a consortium to buy renewable power and push it to the grid. That way we can green the power we are all using.”
The Google-GRDA deal is exactly the type of approach being advocated by Greenpeace, which to date has been most visible for its sharp critiques of energy sourcing by Facebook and Apple.
"As Google powers more of its data center fleet with clean energy, it sends a signal to other IT companies and electric utilities around the world that renewable energy is not only possible, but is simply smart business in the 21st century economy," said Cook. "More Internet companies should follow Google's lead, think long-term, and build an online world touched a real-world clean energy."