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Google Discloses Carbon Footprint, Renewable Energy Goals

Google has been playing an interesting role in renewable energy development, and not only because it has invested more than $780 million in renewable energy generation and tech development.

The search giant on Thursday added a site that tallies the company’s electricity use, including the amount of renewable electricity it’s using, along with its carbon footprint. The data provide a good picture of the company’s energy consumption and reflect the company’s long-touted goal of minimizing its environmental impact. By revealing those numbers, Google also could put pressures on other large companies to embrace cleaner energy or do so more aggressively.

Through the new website, Google revealed that it used 2.26 million megawatt-hours of electricity and generated 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010.

But the company said it was able to offset the emissions completely by a combination of using renewable electricity and buying carbon credits. Google has signed power purchase agreements for wind energy to power its data centers; it also uses renewable energy provided by utilities. It generates its own solar power from an array at its Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, for example. By creating Google Energy, it received federal approval to buy and sell wholesale power.

Collectively, 25 percent of the Google’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2010, the company said. The goal is to reach 30 percent by the end of this year and more than 35 percent in 2012.

Google said its carbon footprint would have doubled without the energy efficiency measures, such as custom-designed servers and data centers that better gauge power use and use more efficient cooling technologies. It’s highlighted its new data center in Finland that uses sea water to cool the servers. Google claims its data centers use 50 percent less electricity than average data centers.

Just yesterday, the company said its Gmail, which is run by cloud-based servers, can be nearly 80 percent more energy efficient than an email system run by a company’s own in-house servers. That’s because Google offers a greater economy of scale with its fleet of data centers, which can apportion computing work more efficiently.

Obviously, Google wants more business and hopes its renewable energy support will help it gain converts. But the company is among a rare breed that has spent money not just to buy carbon offsets or clean power to reduce carbon footprint, but it also has invested aggressively in advancing renewable energy technology development and deployment. It’s an investor in BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar farm, which is under construction at California’s Mojave Desert.

Google also invested in Clean Power Finance, which provides software for solar installers to sell their services and to match their customers with financing options. Earlier this year, the search company launched a $280 million fund and hired SolarCity to install solar panels on residential rooftops. Google also has invested in geothermal tech developers such as AltaRock Energy and Potter Drilling.

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