ERM - The next frontier: Google’s 100 percent decarbonized future
Google is a global leader in the low carbon transition and it was interviewed by The SustainAbility Institute, which is ERM's primary thought leadership platform for delivering actionable insight.
Michael Terrel / Aiste Brackley, ERM, 28 Mag 2021 - 16:30
The interview is part of a series launched by the Institute and called From Promise to Action on Net Zero, including research publications and events exploring how companies are translating net zero emissions goals into practice.
The Institute spoke with Michael Terrell, Head of Energy Market Strategy at Google. The company was the first major one to reach carbon neutrality in 2007 and in 2017 it attained its goal of matching its energy use with 100 percent renewable energy purchases. In 2020, the company announced a new commitment to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy in all its data centers and campuses worldwide by 2030. This was based on more than a decade of work and experience that built confidence in their ability to scale up clean energy across the company and achieve increasingly ambitious aspirations. Google recognized that operations had an environmental impact and they wanted to find the best way to mitigate or minimize this impact. Thanks to a strong employee and leadership commitments to address these issues, the company was not afraid to invest resources in employee time and effort, or to make financial commitments towards achieving their net zero goals.
Among key challenges experienced, Michael Terrell explains that, “Existing policy structures in many of the electricity markets in which we operate have made achieving our clean energy goals difficult. Rather than working within these structures, in some places we have looked to partner with utilities and governments to develop policies that provide access for all companies to buy clean energy and strengthen the market for clean energy more generally. We have worked with others to change policy to create pathways for direct purchases in places like North Carolina and Georgia in the US. In Taiwan, Google worked with the government to amend the Electricity Act to allow corporations to purchase clean energy, which led to Google signing the first Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in the country. [...] One advantage of working with other companies through groups like REBA, Re-Source, and RE100 on a global scale is to drive change in the market and to let policy makers know there is very strong demand for corporates to tackle the problem to gain access to clean energy. [...]"
Realizing clean energy goals requires following internal processes, taking goals to leaders, finance, and operations, and walking them through the benefits and advantages. As explained by Michael Terrell, “Google didn’t treat the initiative like a one-off, it was more like ‘This is how we are going to source power, how we will run the business, and these are our goals’.”
Some good practices for getting beyond barriers may include focusing on what is unique about respective footprint and find like-minded partners, supporting them to achieve their goals and develop the deeper solutions that lead to transformational change. Nowadays, the main need is how to drive to a carbon-free economy and Google is keen on working collaboratively with partners in similar situations, in order to drive better solutions and changes from a holistic point of view.
In terms of broader challenges ahead on Google’s journey to achieving net zero, Michael Terrell concludes that, “We have a long way to go on our journey to 24/7 carbon-free energy. We need to see stronger policies that support climate goals and promote a cleaner economy. There tends to be a focus on carbon policy, but energy policy is just as important given how it helps to structure markets and send signals. If every sector steps up to the challenge, we will see new opportunities. [...] So far Google has mostly been focused on our own electricity use and data centers; yet the way we touch and empower users may very well be our next big frontier.”
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