Apr 23, 2020 - Technology

Google's plan for carbon-free data centers

google HQ
Photo: Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Google is deploying a new tool in its ongoing quest to eventually run its energy-thirsty data centers on carbon-free power around the clock.

The state of play: The company said in a blog post Wednesday that it's beginning to deploy a "carbon-intelligent computing platform" at its very large data centers. The goal is to align energy use to the time period when the supply is cleanest.

  • It will track at what times renewables generation is the highest for the area where the data center is located.
  • Armed with that info, they will ensure that “non-urgent” tasks — like creating new filter features on Google Photos — occur when that renewables part of the energy mix is high.

How it works: The platform compares two next-day forecasts: how the hourly carbon intensity of the grid will change during the day, and what the hourly power needs of the data center will be.

  • "[W]e use the two forecasts to optimize hour-by-hour guidelines to align compute tasks with times of low-carbon electricity supply," the company said.
  • "Results from our pilot suggest that by shifting compute jobs we can increase the amount of lower-carbon energy we consume."

Why it matters: Data centers suck a lot of power (even though they're not the carbon bomb some think).

  • Google says it already buys enough to renewable power annually to match the company's total power use.
  • But that's not the same thing as never relying on fossil generation to run data centers.
  • As we wrote about here, their data centers are still pulling from grid mixes that contain varying amounts of fossil fuels.

The intrigue: Google hopes to not only align the tasks of specific data centers with the local grid mix, but "move flexible compute tasks between different data centers, so that more work is completed when and where doing so is more environmentally friendly," the post states.

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