Google’s colossal presence is all too apparent when we log on to the internet, use a mobile phone or marvel at its foray into driverless cars. Now, the technology group’s reach is stretching to something as simple as switching on a light.
On Tuesday it struck its second renewable energy deal in less than a week, this time a 10-year agreement to buy electricity from a Swedish wind farm.
The transaction comes six days after Google announced its first African renewables deal – a $12m investment in a South African solar-power project – and is the first green energy power purchasing agreement it has completed in Europe.
Globally, Google has invested more than $1bn in low-carbon power in recent years, including a $200m West Texas wind farm deal in December and a $280m investment in a fund to finance residential solar projects in the US.
Other big corporations, such as Ikea, are also investing in renewables as business interest in the sector spreads.
The electricity that technology companies need for their data centres has made them a target of environmental campaigners and has prompted some, such as Apple, to start to run their centres on renewable energy. But few match Google’s investment in new low-carbon projects.
The financial terms of Google’s agreement with O2, a Nordic wind farm developer, have not been disclosed, but the deal means that for 10 years, Google will buy all the power generated by a 24-turbine wind farm O2 is building in northern Sweden, due to start operating in 2015.
Google says it will use the equivalent amount of power at its energy-hungry Hamina data centre in Finland, a country that is part of Scandinavia’s integrated electricity market, along with Sweden.
“As a carbon-neutral company, we’re always looking for ways to increase the amount of renewable energy we use,” said Urs Hölzle, senior vice-president of technical infrastructure at Google. “This long-term agreement, our fourth globally, means we can power our Finnish data centre with clean energy – and add new wind-generation capacity to the European grid.”
Although the electricity used at the Finnish data centre each day will not actually come directly from the O2 wind farm, Google’s power purchase deal enabled the developer to go ahead with the project, said O2 chief executive, Johan Ihrfelt.
That meets one of Google’s two criteria for making green energy investments – buying electricity for its own operational needs in a way that adds more renewables to a power system.
Although Google has not disclosed the terms of its power purchasing agreement with O2, it said it believed it would prove financially beneficial.
“We only make a deal on a project that makes financial sense to us,” said Francois Sterin, senior manager at Google’s global infrastructure team.
“It was very important for us to participate in a new project, not to buy from existing renewable energy sources.”
Google’s power purchasing agreement allowed O2 to secure 100 per cent financing to build the wind farm from German insurer Allianz, which will eventually take over ownership of the plant when it becomes fully operational in early 2015.
O2 will continue to manage the farm, which has an installed capacity of 72 megawatts.
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