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Google sets 2030 target for carbon-free operations in AI-supported green push

Google LLC today said it plans to switch its entire operations, data centers and all, to renewable energy by 2030 in a broad new initiative to reduce greenhouse emissions.

The company will also work with other organizations to help them adopt more sustainable operating models. Google will give companies access to the artificial intelligence power-saving software it uses in its data centers and forge partnerships with cities to support sustainability projects.

The details of the initiative were revealed by Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai in a blog post. Pichai also disclosed on the occasion that “we have eliminated Google’s entire carbon legacy.” According to the CEO, the search giant has fully compensated for the emissions it had generated before becoming carbon neutral in 2007. 

Google obtains a growing portion of the energy it consumes from renewable sources and makes up for the rest through so-called carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are investments that organizations make in projects such as wind farms to reduce their net impact on the environment. In Google’s case, the search giant has been matching all of its electricity consumption with renewable energy since 2017.

Migrating fully to renewable energy is likely to be a major undertaking for the search giant due to the company’s sheer size. Google plans to draw on its technological know-how to ease the switch. “We’ll do things like pairing wind and solar power sources together, and increasing our use of battery storage,” Pichai detailed. “And we’re working on ways to apply AI to optimize our electricity demand and forecasting.”

Beyond eliminating its own carbon emissions, Google will work with other organizations to help them pursue the same goal. In a separate blog post, Google Cloud infrastructure head Urs Hölzle said that the company will make the homegrown AI technology that helps optimize its data centers’ power consumption available to other firms. 

“In the U.S. alone, 12% of all electricity is used for heating and cooling of commercial buildings,” Hölzle wrote. “Now, the same AI technology that helps reduce the energy we use to cool our data centers by 30% will be available to the world’s largest industrial enterprises, building management software providers and data center operators.”

For municipalities, in turn, Google will offer its Environmental Insights Explorer tool, which can be used to measure an area’s emissions and the amount of rooftop space available for solar panels. The search giant is expanding access to the tool from 122 cities to 3,000. It has big plans in this arena: Google today set a goal of helping 500 cities and local governments globally reduce annual carbon emissions by a billion tons annually.

“Tech companies were some of the first to set renewable energy goals, and even still, their energy-hungry data centers continued to use huge amounts of fossil fuels, prolonging our collective reliance on dirty energy anytime we use the internet,” commented Elizabeth Jardim, Greenpeace USA’s senior corporate campaigner. “By becoming the first major tech company to commit to power its data centers with carbon-free energy around the clock, Google is setting a new high-bar for the sector: a break-up with fossil fuels altogether.”

Photo: Google

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