Google's recent investment in various clean energies often solicits questions as to why an Internet search-engine company would invest in the renewable energy sector, according to Rick Needham, Google's director of green business operations and strategy.
‘The answer is quite simple,’ he told the audience at the WINDPOWER 2011 conference general session on Tuesday. ‘Like other companies, energy drives our business, and we want that energy to be as clean as possible.’
And Google requires a lot of energy to produce results for the more than one billion searches it handles daily, according to Needham.
‘To deliver those results requires a world-class computing infrastructure – one that we've been working hard to develop over the last 10 years – and that infrastructure requires energy,’ he said. ‘As a company that views environmental sustainability as a core value, we want to make sure to use clean energy and use it as efficiently as possible.’
In 2007, Google made a commitment to be carbon-neutral. To meet that commitment, Needham said that the company first focused on energy efficiency in its operations.
‘But efficiency doesn't get you to zero, and so, our next step is to go and seek and use renewable energy,’ said Needham, adding that a cleaner environment is not Google's only goal in achieving carbon neutrality.
‘Our engagement in this sector is also based in the fundamental belief that sustainability and clean energy are good business opportunities,’ he said.
Google's first foray into renewable energy investment occurred last May, with a $39 million tax-equity investment in two North Dakota wind projects, which Needham said was the first production tax credit deal to take place in 18 months.
‘The wind industry is particularly important in ensuring that we develop a clean energy economy in the U.S. and abroad,’ he said. ‘Wind energy has already become cost-competitive in many markets and is second only to natural gas in new generation build-out in the U.S.’
Last fall, the company invested in the development stage of the Atlantic Wind Connection, a proposed transmission backbone that could transport offshore wind along the Mid-Atlantic coast.
‘We like this project because it can help the MidAtlantic states achieve their renewable portfolio standards using the best local resource while strengthening – instead of further taxing – the terrestrial grid, and proving greater energy security and reliability,’ said Needham.
‘The backbone also has the ability to transform the industry by enabling 6,000 MW of offshore wind to be connected to the terrestrial grid, which is more than all of the wind deployed in the U.S. last year,’ he added.
Recently, Google made its largest investment to date in wind energy, with over $100 million for the Shepherds Flat wind farm, which is proposed for Oregon. The company also signed power purchase agreements with NextEra Energy for 215 MW of wind generation from Iowa and Oklahoma.
And during the WINDPOWER 2011 conference, Google announced that it would provide $55 million in financing to support a portion of the 1.5 GW Alta Wind Energy Center in California.
‘We've been excited about the impact Google can have in helping to deploy wind and other forms of renewable energy,’ he says. ‘Ultimately, however, we're only one company. We hope that other companies will find ways that they, too, can help move us toward a clean energy future in ways that make business sense.’