Tech behemoth Google is promising to run all its operations on carbon-free electricity by 2030, and says it has bought enough carbon offsets to balance all its emissions since it began operations in 1998.
The September 14 video announcement came “as California, home to Google’s headquarters, continues to burn and choke on the smoke from blazes made more devastating by climate change,” The Verge reports. The company had been offsetting its emissions since 2007, but still “released 4.9 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018 alone,” the equivalent of driving about a million passenger vehicles for the year.
“We have until 2030 to chart a sustainable course for our planet or face the worst consequences of climate change,” said CEO Sundar Pichai. “We are already feeling those impacts today, from historic wildfires in the U.S. to devastating flooding in many parts of the world.”
But “before Google can rely completely on carbon-free energy, it will need to overcome some technological hurdles,” The Verge writes. “It will need more and better batteries to store and supply energy when the sun doesn’t shine and winds come to a halt. It also says it’s figuring out how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to forecast the company’s electricity demand and become more energy-efficient.”
A promise like Google’s can often be held back by antiquated power grids that need upgrades “to better accommodate renewable energy,” the news story adds. And “companies like Google are often limited to relying on the available power mix—which typically includes fossil fuels—wherever they’re operating. So Google may need to think about working in places with healthy renewable energy markets and favourable energy policies.”
The company said it hopes to pave the way for others to follow by getting some of those challenges sorted out. It expects its environmental initiatives to create 12,000 jobs by 2025.
Google is also prepared to consider nuclear energy as a carbon-free electricity source, despite the hazards of mining uranium and the as yet unsolved challenge of safely storing nuclear waste, potentially for millennia. “We believe that all carbon-free technologies have a role to play in zero-carbon electricity systems and that, given the urgent challenge of decarbonizing electricity systems as quickly as possible, no such technology should be taken off the table,” a company spokesperson told The Verge.
The announcement meets one of the demands that prompted 2,000 Google employees to join other tech workers in supporting the global climate strike last September. In May, the company said it would no longer enter into new contracts allowing fossils to use its formidable AI platform to do a better job of extracting oil and gas, though it will still honour existing commitments. Last October, Google took fire for claiming climate leadership while making “substantial” contributions to climate denial groups in the United States.