Google expands Project Sunroof to explore whole community solar potential

Project Sunroof

Google took its Project Sunroof initiative — a tool to help homeowners discover if solar is right for their house —  and is expanding it. This new data explorer tool will enable solar estimates for entire communities, in addition to individual homes, by leveraging 3D rooftop geometry from Google Earth to estimate the solar potential for millions of rooftops in America.

The tool helps communities, cities and municipalities easily visualize how many rooftops are suitable to install solar, how much power they could collectively generate, as well as how much carbon could be displaced by deploying rooftop solar at scale. Sunroof’s solar potential reports can also be easily shared among community members, researchers and policymakers directly from the the tool itself. Anyone can use this tool for free, by simply entering in a state, county, city, or zip code to receive a custom analysis.

Rooftop solar is a viable option for many cities today. Sunroof’s data explorer found that in more than 90% of communities that the tool covers within 42 states nationwide, well over half the rooftops are viable for solar.

“In previous analysis we’ve done, comparing Project Sunroof data estimates to actual systems performing in the field, we’ve found Google’s information to be a highly accurate source for predicting the solar performance of a rooftop system,” said Mark Trout, CIO, Vivint. “At Vivint Solar we are constantly focusing on how to better delight our customers and advance the solar industry through leading innovation. Project Sunroof is a prime example how how technology can improve the consumer experience and accelerate solar deployment here in the US.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Google, Duke Energy team on big PPA for North Carolina data center

In one of the largest solar projects undertaken in North Carolina, Google will benefit from Duke Energy Carolinas’ Green Source Rider program – meeting a portion of the power demand from the company’s data center in Lenoir with solar energy. A 61-MW solar project will be constructed in Rutherford County in Duke Energy Carolinas’ service territory. Under a power purchase agreement with the Rutherford Farms LLC solar project, Duke Energy will secure power to meet new energy demand from Google’s expanded data center.

Google Duke Energy solar North Carolina

“Google was a driver behind Duke Energy seeking approval for the Green Source Rider,” said Rob Caldwell, senior vice president, Distributed Energy Resources. “Having Google as the first company to publicly announce its participation is extremely satisfying. We believe this will lead to similar announcements in the future.”

Here’s what Google had to say about the project on its blog:

As the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world, we (and our partners) want to encourage the countries and states in which we operate our data centers to add more renewable energy to their grids. To date, we’ve committed to purchase 1.2 gigawatts of renewable energy under long term contracts globally. The impact on emissions is the same as taking 590,000 cars off the road.

Enrollment in the Green Source Rider means Google will use renewable energy sources for a portion of the energy supplied to its expanded data center in the city of Lenoir. Under the program, Duke Energy and Google agreed on the specific project and additional costs associated with energy from the facility. Other Duke Energy customers will not pay for the project.

RELATED: North Carolina hits 1 GW of solar capacity (we start slow clap) 

In 2013, Google announced an additional investment of $600 million to expand the Lenoir data center, and at the same time collaborated with Duke Energy to create the Green Source Rider program for large customers seeking renewable energy supply in Duke Energy Carolinas territory. Since that announcement, Duke Energy and Google have been working to execute on a renewable supply solution through the program.

 

Over the past eight years, Duke Energy has invested more than $4 billion in wind and solar facilities in 12 states. The company plans to invest about $3 billion in renewable energy over the next five years. Duke Energy is currently wrapping up a $500 million solar expansion in North Carolina, with the completion of four major solar facilities in Bladen, Duplin, Onslow and Wilson counties. Largely because of investment by Duke Energy companies, North Carolina is ranked fourth nationally for overall installed solar.

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Which Companies Are Greening the Internet?

Graphic credit: Greenpeace

When reading or opining online about the energy consumed by homes, cars and power providers, it’s easy to overlook the amount of electricity the Internet itself requires.

According to a new Greenpeace report, the Web would rank sixth in energy demand if it were a country. The amount of Internet data out there is expected to have tripled from 2012 to 2017. In that time, the Web population is expected to grow from 2.3 billion in 2012 to 3.6 billion people by 2017, or half of the world’s population.

With that sort of virtual volume on deck, Web companies have to become greener.

In Clicking Clean: How Companies Are Creating the Green Internet, Greenpeace researchers make it clear which companies are leading the movement and which ones are still relying on fossil fuels.

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Greenpeace evaluated the energy choices of 19 familiar Internet companies and more than 300 of their data centers. Five of those firms have announced a goal of powering their operations with 100-perecent renewable energy.

“Apple, Facebook and Google are powering our online lives with clean energy, and building a greener offline world for everyone in the process,” Gary Cook, a Greenpeace senior IT analyst, said in a statement. “These companies have proven over the past 24 months that wind and solar energy are ready and waiting to power the internet, and the rest of our economy, with clean electricity.”

While all three companies are known for the renewable energy investments of recent years, Greenpeace particularly singled out Apple, the only company to earn a 100-percent score on its four-category Clean Energy Index. The company powers facilities like its Reno, NV data center with all clean energy, despite the local utility’s resource mix being more than half comprised of natural gas. The same goes Apple’s facility in Maiden, N.C., where 57 percent of the local mix is made up of nuclear energy.

Apple’s North Carolina data center, which is home to the iCloud service, is powered by the largest privately owned solar installation in the country. Amazon and eBay, on the other hand, received 15 and 6 percent, respectively, on their indexes.

“Apple’s rapid shift to renewable energy over the past 24 months has made it clear why it’s one of the world’s most innovative and popular companies,” Cook said. “By continuing to buy dirty energy, Amazon Web Services not only can’t seem to keep up with Apple, but is dragging much of the internet down with it.” 

In the organization’s own words, here is what Greenpeace wants all “major” Internet companies to do:

Make a long-term commitment to become 100-percent renewably powered.

Commit to transparency on IT performance and consumption of resources, including the source of electricity, to enable customers, investors, and stakeholders to measure progress toward that goal.

Develop a strategy for increasing their supply of renewable energy, through a mixture of procurement, investment, and corporate advocacy to both electricity suppliers and government decision-makers.

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3 Tech Companies Using Renewables to Combat Data Center Energy Crisis

apples

It takes a lot of energy to enable web users to stream videos, downloads books and other online activities—about the same amount it would take to power 30 nuclear power plants.

Data centers around the world use about 30 gigawatts, or 30 billion watts of electricity, according to Green House Data. U.S. data centers account for nearly one-third of that amount, according to estimates compiled by The New York Times.  

Click the image to see an extended view. Graphic credit: Green House Data

Click the image to see an extended view. Graphic credit: Green House Data

Stanford University research fellow Jonathan G. Koomey told the publication that U.S. data centers used about 76 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010, which equates to about 2 percent of the electricity used by the entire country that year.

Powering data centers with renewable energy sources like wind or solar is an obvious solution to global energy problems. Here are three companies who have announced plans to power their data centers with renewable energy:

Microsoft

The software corporation announced Monday that it would buy 110 megawatts (MW) of energy from a wind farm 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth, Texas to power its San Antonio data center. The 20-year agreement marks the first time the company will power a data center with clean energy.

The power will come from RES Americas’ Keechi Wind project, which will begin construction early next year. The wind farm will include 55 wind turbines manufactured by Vestas, largely in Colorado.

A synopsis of Microsoft's clean energy plans. Click the image to learn more. Graphic credit: Microsoft

A synopsis of Microsoft’s clean energy plans. Click the image to learn more. Graphic credit: Microsoft

“For Microsoft, signing a long-term [power purchase agreement] for wind energy is a significant milestone in our commitment to carbon neutrality,” Robert Bernard wrote on the company’s Green Blog. “It also underscores how the carbon fee is changing the way Microsoft does business globally. By placing a dollar value on a metric ton of carbon, Microsoft is building environmental sustainability into our long term business planning and creating a blueprint for more purchases of renewable energy like this one.”

Apple

Earlier this year, Apple said it would power its iCloud data centers with renewable energy instead of coal. An environmental report released in March revealed:

An increase in the percentage of renewable energy, from 35 percent to 75 percent, over the last three years at corporate facilities.
Apple opted out of default grid mix program in Prineville, OR in order to power its under-construction data center with wind, hydroelectric and solar.
Like existing data centers in Maiden, NC and Newark, CA, a new Reno, NV site will be completely powered by renewable energy

Google

Google purchased 48 MW of wind energy in 2012 to power a data center in Oklahoma that helps store Gmail, Google Docs and search engine results, Greenpeace reported. The company was faced with using a 50-percent coal mix before striking a power purchase agreement with the local utility.

Google also has a habit of investing millions in renewable facilities. The company Google announced its 13th renewable energy investment in three years last month by helping to fund a 265.7 MW solar project in California. The company pledged $103 million to Silver Ridge Power’s Mount Signal Solar project, which will power 80,000 homes and create 900 construction jobs. Google’s clean energy investment portfolio—which has eclipsed $1 billion—also includes projects in Germany and South Africa.

“We invest in these projects because they make business sense, because they help put more renewable energy on the grid and because they have a positive impact on the local economies where they operate,” Google corporate finance head Kojo Ako-Asare said.

Visit EcoWatch’s SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS page for more related news on this topic.

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