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A year of carbon-free energy at our data centers

Last year, we announced our most ambitious sustainability goal yet: to operate everywhere on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030. We’ve set this goal to ensure that Google Cloud continues to be the cleanest cloud in the industry, and to show that full-scale decarbonization of electricity use is possible. 

Since setting our target, we’ve made tremendous progress in how we track, buy, and use electricity; advocate for clean energy policies; and support the development of new technologies to help us reach this goal. And we’ve done it all while maintaining a commitment to transparency that we hope will make it easier for other organizations wishing to fully decarbonize their operations as well.

In the spirit of transparency, today we’re releasing the 2020 carbon-free energy percentages (CFE%) for all Google data centers, as well as overall progress on the road to our 2030 goal: In 2020, Google achieved 67% round-the-clock carbon free energy across all its data centers, up from 61% in 2019. In other words, of all the electricity consumed by Google data centers in 2020, two-thirds of it was matched with local, carbon-free sources on an hourly basis.

Though we saw a significant jump in global CFE% in 2020, we expect the numbers to vary from year to year. Ultimately, CFE% is dependent on the amount of new clean energy that comes online in a given year; we may even occasionally see short-term drops in the numbers. What’s most important is that we continue to maintain a long-term trajectory toward our 2030 goal. With meaningful progress in clean energy policy, technologies, and transactional models, we believe 24/7 carbon-free energy is achievable.

Tracking these numbers also allows us to give Google Cloud customers greater control in their own sustainability efforts. Earlier this year we announced Google Cloud Region Picker, a system that helps our customers assess factors like cost, speed, and CFE% as they choose where to run their applications. 

To outline some of the events that have helped us get to 67% CFE%, we’ve developed an animation that shows every hour of electricity use in 2020, at all our Google data centers around the world. 

Visualizing clean energy: every hour, every day, everywhere

Imagining what every hour in a year looks like is hard enough (there are 8,760 of them, in case you’re wondering). With 23 data centers and 25 cloud regions around the world, we’re aiming to source clean energy for over 200,000 operational hours each year.

The “A year in carbon-free energy” animation points out significant projects that came online in 2020 to bring our data centers closer to operating entirely on round-the-clock carbon-free energy. It also reflects an unparalleled level of transparency about our carbon-free energy data, showing hour-by-hour where we need to develop new clean energy projects, advocate for policy changes, and in some cases, look to new technologies that can help fill in the gaps left by variable renewable resources. 

In the animation, you’ll notice sites with a lot of green at midday (e.g. in Chile or the U.S. Southeast) – a sign that solar is making a big contribution. Other data centers, such as our facilities in the U.S. Midwest, rely more heavily on wind power and are subject to seasonal fluctuations in wind speed. 

Preventing the worst impacts of climate change will require decarbonizing the world’s electric grids, as fast as possible. Google is committed to doing as much as possible to clear a path for others and drive collective action to achieve this goal. We’re thrilled to be in good company as we move, together, toward a carbon-free future.

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