Google Sustainability is an effort that ranges across their business, from the Global Fishing Watch to environmental consciousness in the supply chain. Given that cloud computing has been a major draw of global energy in recent years, the amount of computing done in data centers more than quintupled between 2010 and 2018. But, the amount of energy consumed by the world’s data centers grew only six percent during that period, thanks to improvements in energy efficiency. However, that’s still a lot of power. That’s why Google’s sustainability efforts for data centers and cloud computing are especially important.
Google Cloud Sustainability Efforts – As Old as Their Data Centers
Reducing energy usage has been an initiative for Google for more than 10 years. Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, and 2019 marked the third year in a row that they’ve matched their energy usage with 100 percent renewable energy purchases. Google’s innovation in the data center market also comes from the process of building facilities from the ground up instead of buying existing infrastructures and using machine learning technology to monitor and improve power-usage-effectiveness (PUE) and find new ways to save energy in their data centers.
When comparing the big three cloud providers in terms of sustainability efforts, AWS is by far the largest source of carbon emissions from the cloud globally, due to its dominance. However, AWS’s sustainability team is investing in green energy initiatives and is striving to commit to an ambitious goal of 100% use of renewable energy by 2040 to become as carbon-neutral as Google has been. Microsoft Azure, on the other hand, has run on 100 percent renewable energy since 2014 but would be considered a low-carbon electricity consumer and that’s in part because it runs less of the world than Amazon or Google.
Nonetheless, data centers from the big three cloud providers, wherever they are, all run on electricity. How the electricity is generated is the important factor in whether they are more or less favorable for the environment. For Google, reaching 100% renewable energy purchasing on a global and annual basis was just the beginning. In addition to continuing their aggressive move forward with renewable energy technologies like wind and solar, they wanted to achieve the much more challenging long-term goal of powering operations on a region-specific, 24-7 basis with clean, zero-carbon energy.
Why Renewable Energy Needs to Be the Norm for Cloud Computing
It’s no secret that cloud computing is a drain of resources, roughly three percent of all electricity generated on the planet. That’s why it’s important for Google and other cloud providers to be part of the solution to solving global climate change. Renewable energy is an important element, as is matching the energy use from operations and by helping to create pathways for others to purchase clean energy. However, it’s not just about fighting climate change. Purchasing energy from renewable resources also makes good business sense, for two key reasons:
- Renewables are cost-effective – The cost to produce renewable energy technologies like wind and solar had come down precipitously in recent years. By 2016, the levelized cost of wind had come down 60% and the levelized cost of solar had come down 80%. In fact, in some areas, renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy available on the grid. Reducing the cost to run servers reduces the cost for public cloud customers – and we’re in favor of anything that does that.
- Renewable energy inputs like wind and sunlight are essentially free – Having no fuel input for most renewables allows Google to eliminate exposure to fuel-price volatility and especially helpful when managing a global portfolio of operations in a wide variety of markets.
Google Sustainability in the Cloud Goes “Carbon Intelligent”
In continuum with their goals for data centers to consume more energy from renewable resources, Google recently revealed in their latest announcement that it will also be time-shifting workloads to take advantage of these resources and make data centers run harder when the sun shines and the wind blows.
“We designed and deployed this first-of-its-kind system for our hyperscale (meaning very large) data centers to shift the timing of many compute tasks to when low-carbon power sources, like wind and solar, are most plentiful.”, Google announced.
Google’s latest advancement in sustainability is a newly developed carbon-intelligent computing platform that seems to work by using two forecasts – one indicating future carbon intensity of the local electrical grid near its data center and another of its own capacity requirements – and using that data “align compute tasks with times of low-carbon electricity supply.” The result is that workloads run when Google believes it can do so while generating the lowest-possible CO2 emissions.
The carbon-intelligent computing platform’s first version will focus on shifting tasks to different times of the day, within the same data center. But, Google already has plans to expand its capability, in addition to shifting time, it will also move flexible compute tasks between different data centers so that more work is completed when and where doing so is more environmentally friendly. As the platform continues to generate data, Google will document its research and share it with other organizations in hopes they can also develop similar tools and follow suit.
Leveraging forecasting with artificial intelligence and machine learning is the next best thing and Google is utilizing this powerful combination in their platform to anticipate workloads and improve the overall health and performance of their data center to be more efficient. Combined with efforts to use cloud resources efficiently by only running VMs when needed, and not oversizing, resource utilization can be improved to reduce your carbon footprint and save money.