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Google Says It Will Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy in 2017


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Tech giants are jockeying to be the first to hit a 100 percent renewable energy goal. Google, which has invested in solar and wind energy for a decade, intends to get there by 2017. Google’s data centres and the offices for its 60,000 staff will be powered entirely by renewable energy from next year, in what the company has called a “landmark moment”.

Google is the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy and plans to buy enough wind and solar energy to offset all the electricity used by its 13 data centers and offices in 150 cities worldwide, the company said.

Apple seems close to reaching its own 100 percent goal as well. The company said it achieved 93 percent in 2015. An Apple spokeswoman said the company has yet to set a year for when they would likely cross the finish line.

For Google, hitting the 100 percent target means for every unit of electricity it consumes-typically from coal or natural gas power plants-it would buy a unit of wind or solar electricity. The company wouldn't say how much electricity it will need to have purchased by the end of next year to reach its 100 percent goal, but did say that the amount would exceed the 5.7 terawatt-hours solar and wind energy that it bought in 2015.

"We want to run our business in an environmentally responsible way, and energy consumption is the largest portion," said Neha Palmer, head of energy strategy and development at Google's Global Infrastructure Group.

Businesses, like homeowners, have historically relied on their local utilities for power. In 2015, about 67 percent of the electricity produced in the United States came from fossil fuels. Businesses would have to build and run their own solar or wind farms if they want to hit their 100 percent more quickly, but that will require hefty investments and expertise they don't have. As a result, when companies set strong renewable energy goals, they often reach them by buying enough solar and wind electricity or renewable energy credits to offset their use of electricity from coal or natural gas power plants.

The price for building large solar farms that have the scale to supply utilities dropped 12 percent in 2015, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, part of the US Department of Energy.

Market analysts expect the prices to continue to fall even with the abundance of cheap coal and natural gas. The pressure on countries around the world to meet their targets from the Paris climate agreement, which went into effect last month, will make renewable energy attractive, said Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The research firm has projected that solar and wind will become the cheapest sources of electricity for "most of the world" after 2030.

Google currently pays for wind and solar power from 20 renewable energy projects in the United States and abroad, in places such as Sweden and Chile. However, it doesn't limit itself to buying solar and wind only in regions where it operates and sees itself as a champion of reducing the emissions produced by the electric industry, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Setting the 100 percent renewable energy goal is not the only way to reduce a company's carbon footprint, said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University.

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