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Google and Facebook on why renewables make economic sense

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Senior executives from global internet giants Google and Facebook say that renewable energy is now a valid economic alternative, and more companies could and should be following their path to 100 per cent renewable energy.

Google announced last week that it would commission another 840MW of renewable energy, taking its total capacity to more than 2GW, making it the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world.

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It expects to be providing 100 per cent of its needs from renewables for its operations, which include 14 data centres, within a few years.

Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, but this relied heavily on carbon offsets, so it set itself a target of 100 per cent renewables.

“We will likely be 100% renewables over next several years,” said John Woolard, the vice president for energy for Google.

Woolard, speaking at the Re-energising the Future conference on the sidelines of the Paris climate talks, says the costs of wind and solar have fallen dramatically and will continue to fall.

“Those cost curves have gone down dramatically. It is now economically attractive based on its own merits, but only in certain locations,” Woolard said.

Bill Weihl, the head of sustainability at Facebook, agreed, and indicated that this would influence where the company did business.

“We are unlikely to go to region where we cannot get access to clean energy,” Weihl said. Facebook currently sources 25 per cent of its needs from renewable energy, and has a 50 per cent target for 2018.

Facebook is involved in a partnership with WWF, the Rocky Mountain Institute and others to urge other companies to adopt similar targets.

“We have just gotten started in it,” Weihl said, but it was clear that many companies “don’t know what to do.”

“Other businesses need to understand is that it is so much more possible (because of cost reductions). The key is to decide whether you want to do it.

“You don’t order it online. It takes work to achieve it. It is very doable, and more companies should step up.”

One of those stepping up is La Poste, which this year became the first French company to announce it would source all its electricity needs from renewable energy.

So far, it supplies around one third of its needs from 45 solar arrays on the rooftops of its distribution centres. It also has plans for 10,000 electric vehicles.

Both Google and Facebook underlined the importance of innovation.

Google’s Woolard said more work was needed to reduce costs of the technologies needed to integrate renewables into the grid, and ensure its reliability and resilience

“We have a really big job in front of us, which is to change the energy infrastructure of the entire world in the next 20-30 years. We can’t do that only with the technology we have in front of us today,” Woolard said.

Facebook’s Weihl agreed.

“We do need innovation. We need enough money going into basic research, and we need to keep deploying the technologies we have.

“A lot of innovation happened in wind and solar because of their economies of scale. That gives us cost reductions but we need, as well, investment in radical breakthroughs. We need both.”

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  • howardpatr

    Don’t tell this to the party of dinosours; the LNP. The likes of Macfarlane, Andrews, Abetz, etc,etc would know far more than Google and Facebook and those old has beens still tell Turnbull what to do.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    There is lots of innovation to be done, but it is not at basic research level. However it is mostly implementing smart grid technology and active demand management. We need to redesign our factories so that they can take advantage of surplus production of renewables. And most importantly, innovating new market mechanisms that genuinely can take full value of zero emission renewables and batteries into account. We need also to innovate with building integrated solar technologies. Also we need to get rid of regulatory obstacles.

  • Ian

    Once companies like Google source their electricity needs 100% from renewables they need to go further, namely, partner with other companies that might not have considered, or might not have the know-how to develop PPA’s. That way they can leverage their influence to go 120% or even 200% renewables. The terms of a PPA contract could deliberately be for 1/2 or 3/4 of the output of a renewables development. Or, by finding other customers they could have a group PPA, or a PPA could be for a limited time period, say 5 years, or on a declining basis 100% for the first year 90% for the next and so on. It’s a pity they waste good corporate influence on a 1 to 1 PPA when they could leverage this like a bank or Stockmarket investor! By managing their influence, a PPA of 1MW of power could raise a generation capacity of 3 or 4 or more MW of name- plate capacity.

    In the developed world there is a serious problem of the incumbant FF generators resisting renewables. Wind and solar have relied on government patronage to develop and the incumbants have had a large lobbying force limiting government resolve.The naming and shaming and peer pressure exerted by COP21 has been good for renewables but large companies like Google can take up the baton to accelerate the deployment of wind and solar.