Google Enters Upside Down World of Renewable Supply and Demand


NEW YORK: Google and its parent company, Alphabet Inc., have long put themselves forward as leaders in renewable energy use. Last week, they took that a step further by announcing that they are now “working toward 24×7 clean energy everywhere we have data centers.” Because renewable energy supply fluctuates based on the availability of things like sun and wind, that means that in practice, Google will have to shift computing demand in its data centers to renewable energy at times when the supply on the power grid is at its peak. This is a form of demand response in which energy consumers change their power consumption to better match the grid. Maximizing renewable energy consumption, though, means optimizing for a supply curve that looks different. In grids with a significant amount of solar generation, there will be ample zero-carbon generation at midday, meaning that companies will want to shift consumption to those hours. Wind generation peaks in the mornings and evenings, meaning that any large electricity consumer will want to push its peak consumption into those same hours. There are a few other things about this plan that highlight how much our grid has changed, and how responsive to the grid a big power user like Google can now be.