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With 2.6 GW (gigawatts) of renewable energy purchased, Google is on pace to reach 100 percent renewable energy next year, including all its data centers and offices, said Urs Hölzle, the company’s senior VP of technical infrastructure, in an announcement this morning.

That amount of power is equivalent to 100 percent of the output from the Hoover Dam.

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Google Image. (Click for larger version)

Google relies mainly on renewable-energy certificates and on contracts to buy renewable energy, the first of which it signed with a 114-MW (megawatt) wind farm in 2010. Today it claims to be the world’s largest buyer of renewable power (see chart above). By far the largest part of its renewable power comes from wind farms. About 10 percent comes from solar plants.

Data centers, the backbone of the internet and the foundation for searching and cloud computing, consume huge amounts of power, but Google has worked to make its centers 50 percent more efficient than the industry average, the company said. At the same time, the cost of wind and solar energy has dropped 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, showing that they are a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

“As Google itself acknowledges, its effort to become 100 percent renewably powered remains a work in progress due to the limited renewable-energy options offered by monopoly utilities,” said Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook in a news release. “Given the hostility to climate change and renewable-energy policies by the incoming Trump administration, companies that have made commitments to power their operations with renewable energy need to speak up on the critical importance of strengthening renewable energy policies, as Google has done today.”

Greenpeace said it expects to release its latest Clicking Clean report, assessing the performance of Google, Apple, Amazon, and other internet companies on their use of renewable energy, on Jan. 10.

Google’s next step, outlined in this paper, is to power its operations with region-specific energy. This is closer to the approach that cloud rival Amazon Web Services seems to be taking. It’s building its own wind farms, though only one data center, in Oregon, is currently running 100 percent on renewable energy. AWS’s stated goal is to have half its data centers running on renewable energy by the end of next year.

Microsoft, too, is moving strongly toward renewable energy. It said earlier this year that about 44 percent of the power used to run its data centers is renewable, with a goal to pass 50 percent by the end of 2018.

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