Google to Purchase 100% Alternative Energy Sources in 2017

Pedal faster, we need the juice! The tech giant is about to become the world's greenest company. Here's how. 


Google’s about to become the world’s largest green company.

According to The New York Times, the tech giant used as much energy in 2016 as the entire city of San Francisco. That’s enough energy to power half a million American homes in the same time frame. Why? “Google's energy costs are much higher than usual because in addition to powering its offices, Google also runs several large data servers in many parts of the world,” Popular Mechanics reports. Google’s noticed that, too – and it's decided to take action.

In 2017, Google hopes to stop its energy drain by using only solar and wind technologies to power its headquarters and all worldwide data centers. “What Google has done over the last decade, with relatively little fanfare, is participate in a number of large-scale deals with renewable producers, typically guaranteeing to buy the energy they produce with their wind turbines and solar cells,” reports The Times. Those guarantees, known as Renewable Energy Certificates, allow producers to obtain financing that helps them purchase more turbines or solar cells. Google plans to have all of its facilities and campuses purchase enough certificates to cover 100% of its energy output by next year.

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Google’s current renewable energy contracts. Credit: Yale Environment 360.

"We are the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world,” Google vice president of data centers Joseph Kava told The Times. “It’s good for the economy, good for business and good for our shareholders.” There is truth to that; Google has seen both lower energy consumption and improved efficiency since investing in renewable energy. “Compared to five years ago, the company says it now delivers 3.5 times more computing power with the same amount of electricity in certain portions of its data centers,” The Verge reports. They released a white paper to explain even more about their data savings.

Google’s hope is that other companies will follow its lead. “I do know that a lot of learnings can be applied to other industries,” Kava told The Verge. “If you’re a large industrial plant, whether it’s petrochemical, oil and gas, or just large metal fabrication, it’s a lot of the same things. Power going in, which means heat, and getting that heat out.”

Google hopes other tech companies will adopt alternative energy sources as well. “Microsoft says it has been 100 percent carbon neutral since 2014, but much of this comes from the purchase of carbon offsets,” The Times explains “which are investments in things like tree planting or renewables projects.” If Microsoft were to follow Google’s lead and invest in renewable energy rather than purchase carbon offsets, the tech industry might very well help alternative energies gain enough traction to become viable mainstream power sources.

For all of its potential, there are a few caveats to Google’s plan. Namely, it isn't actually going to power anything with renewable energy. It's just going to invest in it. “If they think they can actually support themselves with wind and solar panels, they should connect them directly to their data centers,” Chris Warren, vice president of communications at the Institute for Energy Research (and alleged fossil fuel fan), told The Times. “In my mind it’s a PR gimmick.”

Yet, “Google support for the [alternative energy] industry could keep prices dropping, particularly relative to things like coal,” reports The Times. If Google succeeds, it will become the first large corporation to run entirely on clean energy and that, as environmental strategy consultant Andrew Winston told us, could change the world for the better: 

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.


Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device

It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Surprising Science
  • 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
  • The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
  • It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
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Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
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  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
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