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November 24, 2022

Google says its UK operations will be 90% carbon free by 2025

The tech giant says it is getting nearer to being carbon free by offsetting its energy usage.

By Matthew Gooding

Google says its UK cloud region and operations team will be 90% carbon free by 2025 after it agreed a deal with offshore wind provider ENGIE.

Google’s London offices. The company says its UK division will be 90% carbon free by 2025. (Photo by William Barton/Shutterstock)

The power purchase agreement (PPA) will come into force in 2025, and see Google purchase 100 MW of carbon-free energy from Moray West offshore wind farm in Scotland to offset its energy use. Google UK is currently 67% powered by carbon-free energy, the company says.

Google clean energy deal covers UK offices and cloud

The PPA covers the energy used in the Google Cloud UK region, the servers used by many British customers of the company’s public cloud platform to run workloads and store data, as well as all the company’s UK offices. Google is building a new UK headquarters in King’s Cross, London, which is due to open in 2024. As of 2020, the company employed more than 5,000 people in the UK.

Matt Brittin, president of Google EMEA said: “People across the UK and Europe are increasingly worried about climate change and energy security. We share that concern and believe technology is an important part of the solution – both by reducing our own emissions, and by helping others to reduce theirs.

“This new investment in UK renewable energy brings us one step closer to reaching our goal of operating entirely on carbon-free energy by 2030, and means that, in the UK, we’ll be running on at or near 90% carbon-free energy in 2025.”

Is Google UK really operating carbon free?

When the new arrangement comes into force, Google says the UK region will be one of six of the company’s cloud regions to run on at least 90% carbon-free energy (the others are Finland, Iowa, Montreal, Spain and Toronto). According to the business’s own figures, the amount of carbon-free energy used to power its data centres varies widely from region to region.

Running cloud workloads on energy-efficient servers has become a priority for businesses as they attempt to meet their own sustainability targets. However, whether PPAs like the one announced by Google today represent a true move towards net zero is open to debate.

PPAs see companies offset their use of fossil fuels by purchasing renewable energy and selling it back to the grid at wholesale price. The other hyperscale cloud providers, Amazon's AWS and Microsoft Azure, operate in a similar way; Microsoft says it has been net zero in its data centres since 2014, but achieves this through renewable energy certificates (RECs), a tradeable commodity which allows users to buy renewable energy to make up for the fossil fuels it burns. MSFT aims to have all its data centres running on actual 100% renewable energy by 2025.

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AWS also has a 2025 target to have its data centres operating carbon-free, and at the moment boosts its green credentials by buying large amounts of renewable energy produced by others. Indeed it claims to be the largest corporate buyer of such energy in the world. When it opened a new region in Spain last week, AWS announced it was funding two renewable energy projects, but unlike Google Cloud and Azure, it does not publish region-level sustainability information, meaning customers are unable to choose servers based on carbon footprint.

Read more: Can smart infrastructure help deliver net zero?

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