Google and Renewable Energy

Google and Intel Go Green, Globally

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted November 1, 2008

What's the one industry that's changed as much in the past few decades as energy?

Infotech.

And as their energy demands grow, and electricity becomes more expensive, high-tech companies like Google are increasingly going green.

Consider a few points:

  • The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy research center at the University of California, says data center energy costs can be 100-times higher than those for typical buildings.
  • In her article about Google's processing power demands, "Keyword: Evil," in Harper's in spring 2008, Ginger Strand notes, "In 2006 American data centers consumed more power than American televisions."
  • The economics of energy for big IT changes along with political and economic conditions, and
  • Infotech companies are committed to developing solutions in-house as much as possible.

The target is for Google's internal R&D teams to develop 1 gigawatt of renewable energy that can be produced more cheaply than coal-fired power.

Or, as the techies put it: 

RE < C

Google's philanthropic investment arm Google.org has invested $11 million in AltaRock Energy and Potter Drilling, two geothermal companies in the western U.S.

Intel and Google are both pushing hard into power reduction and production. Intel has paved the way in energy-efficient microchips, and Google's constant advances in streamlining daily life make telecommuting more possible than ever.

But with well over 200,000 buzzing servers used to run the world's top search engine, it appears that Google's massive data processing facilities may have started something of an IT arms race.

The quest for cheap power today is already pushing American tech heavyweights from Silicon Valley overseas, to downstream solutions for energy optimization...

According to Strand's piece in Harper's, "Microsoft has announced plans for a data center in Siberia, AT&T has built two in Shanghai, and Dublin has attracted Google and Microsoft. In all three locations, as in the United States, the burning of fossil fuels accounts for a majority of the electricity."

But keep in mind that the same low-cost draw of Chinese energy is also attracting foreign direct investment that goes further in China than it would in U.S. startups. Intel announced in the last week of October that it will invest $20 million in a Chinese solar power company through its investment arm, Intel Capital.

Moves like that earned Intel the EPA Green Power Partner of the Year designation, awarded to companies that voluntarily move to minimize their carbon footprint and ramp up efficiency.

Chinese universities are also graduating hundreds of thousands of engineers every year. That gives Google, Intel, AMD and others a crop of the best in the Middle Kingdom to help further the company's global efficiency strategy.

Applying IT Energy Lessons Nationally

Carbon neutrality is a primary goal, and the next step is fostering new power generation techniques for server farms and other juice-guzzling technologies.

In September, before the stock market collapse got Washington talking about large-scale investment projects and job creation schemes, Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke passionately about political will and competitive reality to a roomful of his peers at the Corporate EcoForum:

"We have a total failure of political leadership, at least in the U.S., and perhaps the world," Schmidt asserted.

"Why not retool the infrastructure in the U.S.?" he added rhetorically.

Well, there's no good reason why not, other than putting off until tomorrow what could be done today.

Google and Intel see energy efficiency as an industrial imperative. To increase shareholder value and minimize costs, smart power is a must.

Same goes for the country and the world. Taxpayers will reap the rewards of energy investments with jobs and GDP growth. Schmidt sees a pathway to the kind of sustainable competition that can move us forward, rather than engaging in a race-to-the-bottom mentality of outsourcing and cost-cutting that has dominated in recent decades.

It's no wonder, then, that Schmidt is rumored to be on the short list for a national chief technology officer position that Barack Obama has promised to create, in the event he wins office next Tuesday.

Google has set the standard for IT excellence since the turn of the millennium. Out of the thousands of companies that rose and fell during dot-com mania, Google survived to change the way information flows and the way many industries work.

Whoever wins on Election Day, we'd like to see Google, Intel, and others take the lead in a comprehensive initiative to create a new energy economy.

Regards,

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Sam Hopkins