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By 2030 it will be "24/7 carbon-free", says Google - after saying it already met the goal three years ago

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Nuclear Power Policy Activist Independent

I am a passionate advocate for the environment and nuclear energy. With the threat of climate change, I’ve embarked on a mission to help overcome the fears of nuclear energy. I’ve been active in...

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  • Jul 16, 2021
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Though setting goals for renewable energy - 'carbon-free', 'carbon-neutral', '100% sustainable', 'powered by 100% clean energy', etc. - is currently more popular than avocado toast, it's a long-standing tradition. President Jimmy Carter was a goal-setting pioneer when, in 1979, he proclaimed the U.S. would get 20% of of its energy from the sun by the year 2000.
Among the variety of claims, virtually all have a due date ending in two zeroes. Something else they have in common: none have ever come close to being met. Worse, no one has taken responsibility for the failure. Not a single soul has stepped forward and said, "Our goal was overly optimistic," much less "We completely blew it!" (which, I surmise, would have been more truthful).
When Apple claimed in 2017 its North Carolina data center was running on "100% renewable energy," for example, I was skeptical. So I decided to take a deep dive and figure out how much of the energy consumed by its huge East Coast server farm came from renewable sources.
Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Information Administration (EIA.gov) has a comprehensive database of sources of energy in the U.S., including their past performance. After spending two evenings analyzing downloaded spreadsheets from the site I was reasonably confident 65% of the electricity did indeed come from renewable sources. 35% came from an onsite solar farm, and 30% was generated by burning methane from a nearby landfill. But 9% was generated by coal plants, 12% was from nuclear plants, and the rest was mostly natural gas generation.
Now, the people who work at Apple Computer are probably among the sharpest tools in the shed. So when they made the claim, knowing their center was powered by only 65% renewable energy, they were lying. And at 35% off, their lies weren't white lies. Their lies were ones shaded more of a mica-gray.

Apple, of course, is not alone. When I visited respected energy portal spglobal.com last week and read "Google, hyper-scalers leading charge in industry push to go 24/7 carbon free" by 2030, something rang a bell. "Isn't Google already powered by 100% renewable energy?," I wondered. It didn't take long to find the report I had seen: not only had Google claimed it was already powered by carbon-free energy last April, but the company had already achieved four consecutive years of 100% renewable energy. I had to laugh - not because Google marketers are liars, capable of inventions on par with those of oil or cigarette companies, but because they were so blatant, or confused, or careless about it. Getting the story straight just didn't matter.

From these experiences and others I can safely say that when any company claims it will be 100% renewable by the year 21XX, it has no basis to make the claim, and no intention of achieving it. It's 100% bull****, and I'm not being cynical. That's just the way big companies operate.
The moral of the story is there are no morals, at least in terms of environmental responsibility in corporate America. If we're going to find a way to fight climate change, we'll have to start by holding the biggest companies responsible - because they will never, ever take responsibility themselves.

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Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jul 16, 2021

Interesting article Bob.  It seems like more and more these days you have to do your homework and read between the lines.  It is too bad that these companies feel they have to say they are 100% on renewable energy when they are not.  I think it is a great accomplishment if they are even on 65% - so why do they feel they have to mislead the public? 

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