This is a story about putting your money where your mouth is.
Last week, on Earth Day, Google pledged to run all of its data centers on carbon-free electricity by 2030. CEO Sundar Pichai said: “Within a decade, we aim for every Google data center, cloud region, and office campus to run on clean electricity every hour of every day.”
Google is in good company when it comes to big tech climate initiatives. Facebook achieved net-zero emissions for operations last year. Apple is now completely powered by renewable energy. Amazon is promising net-zero emissions by 2040. And Microsoft is actually planning to be carbon negative by 2030, meaning it will remove more carbon dioxide from the air than it produces.
While all these companies should be lauded for their sustainability efforts, there’s a very important structural reason for why cloud service companies prioritize efficiency and sustainability: because the manufacturers own the assets, not the consumer. When companies turn from product vendors into service providers, all sorts of innovation starts happening with regards to efficiency and waste.
Data centers, for example, are the Godzillas of electricity consumption. The combined power usage of the Big Five tech companies is roughly the same as New Zealand. Google’s own electricity consumption nearly tripled between 2013 and 2018. Today the IT sector contributes roughly the same amount of greenhouse emissions as the aviation industry (and don’t get me started on Bitcoin mining).
Data center power efficiency is measured through a metric called PUE, which represents the ratio of total energy used divided by energy used specifically for information technology activities. The ideal PUE is 1, where 100% of a data center’s electricity consumption goes toward actual computation as opposed to overhead like transformers and cooling systems.
As you can see below, Google has made significant progress on its PUE ratio since it started handing out public figures in 2008: