Google Pushes Utilities Toward Offering Renewable Energy Option • Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013

As North Carolina works on destroying its Renewable Portfolio Standard – the policy that’s catapulted it to US leadership – Google is showing how important renewables are to economic development there.

Google is planning to expand its data center there, bringing its investment to $1.2 billion, and it wants renewable energy to power it.

“They are a valuable economic resource in the area and a great example of a company that prioritizes environmental stewardship,” Governor Pat McCrory told Associated Press.

Because of Google, Duke Energy is developing a program where large customers can buy renewable energy from local projects, a model Google wants to also see elsewhere.

Google wants utilities to offer the option of buying renewable energy by paying a “tariff” – that way large customers would be able to get renewable energy without having to build their own renewable energy plants.

The most straightforward way to expand renewable energy, says Google, is for utilities to offer a renewable power option for companies that request it – something that’s not currently offered by most utilities.

The tariff would pay for new renewable energy plants beyond what’s required in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

That would help Duke and other utilities provide renewable energy without worrying so much about government incentives.

In a white paper on the subject, Google explains its reasoning for needing to go beyond building its own plants:

On-site systems typically don’t produce sufficient electricity to power large facilities 24/7 and must be supplemented with power from the local utility provider.

Sometimes siting renewable projects off-site is a much better option, especially for larger electricity loads like data centers. The renewable resource may be better (e.g., more wind or sun) in locations distant from the load, allowing more cost effective power generation. It may also be more feasible to build larger power installations (e.g., wind farms) away from the load, where large parcels of land may be available for renewable project development.

This allows utilities to do what they do best: build power plants, procure power, manage the grid, and deliver electricity to customers.

North Carolina regulators have to approve the experiment – Duke plans to apply within 90 days. They are concerned that Duke could shift some costs to residential and other smaller ratepayers.

“Before today, even large energy users in North Carolina were only offered dirty energy by Duke Energy: coal, nuclear and gas,” says Gary Cook, senior IT analyst with Greenpeace International. “In living up to its commitment of powering 100 percent of its operations with renewable energy, Google has given Duke Energy the push it needs to offer a renewable tariff which could finally mean access to clean energy for Duke Energy’s customers in North Carolina,” he told Associated Press.

One would think utilities would like this approach – essentially being paid directly to build renewable energy plants – since their business model is so threatened by growing amounts of distributed energy.

Apple recently announced its new data center in North Carolina is running fully on renewable energy.

Google has been leading on renewables for years, adding up to 2 gigawatts of power.

Its investments include some of the biggest, most important projects in the US: the Atlantic Wind Connection, a critical backbone for offshore wind transmission; Shepherds Flat, one of the world’s largest wind farms in Oregon; Ivanpah, an enormous solar project in California; and a portfolio of solar plants in Sacramento. It has 2 megawatts of solar PV on its rooftops. They also buy renewable energy to power its data centers, especially wind.