Will Google Energy Power Its Data Centers?

Google (GOOG) has formed a new subsidiary to buy and sell power on the wholesale market, and hopes the move will help provide more renewable energy. A key beneficiary of the move could be the company's vast, power-hungry data center network.

Rich Miller

January 7, 2010

2 Min Read
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A look at a working solar thermal power generation facility.

Google (GOOG) has formed a new subsidiary to buy and sell power on the wholesale market, and hopes the move will help provide more renewable energy to meet its corporate carbon reduction goals. The company formed Google Energy last month and has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow it to participate in the energy markets.

"Right now, we can't buy affordable, utility-scale, renewable energy in our markets," Google representative Niki Fenwick told CNet. "We want to buy the highest quality, most affordable renewable energy wherever we can and use the green credits."

Target: Data Centers?
Google isn't saying how it will use any green energy it generates or purchases, but the company's vast, power-hungry data center network could be the primary beneficiary. Google has shown an intense focus on energy efficiency in the design and operation of its data centers, and has also invested in renewable energy, primarily through its Google.org non-profit arm.

Google has previously invested in thermal solar power which use the sun’s heat to create steam to power electric generators. That's a different approach than photovoltaic solar panels, which use semiconductor materials to directly convert sunlight into electrons. Google green energy czar Bill Weihl says the company has made progress on mirrors that could accelerate the development of thermal solar power at utility scale.

Potential for Geothermal
This week Weihl cited the promise of geothermal energy, which has been implemented recently in data centers in the midwest, including the LEED Platinum ACT data center in Iowa and the proposed Prairie Bunkers facility at a former ammo storage site in Nebraska.

"One really nice thing about enhanced geothermal is that it’s base load power: the fuel’s always there, whereas for solar and wind, sometimes the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow and you can’t produce any energy," Weihl told The New York Times. "So we think enhanced geothermal is very promising. It has a ways to go before it gets to be really cost-competitive with coal, and it might never quite get there, but it’s got a big upside."

Photo of solar thermal facility by aflores via Flickr.

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