The role of technology in clean energy
When we think about energy consumption, we think about the energy it takes to turn on our lights or power our air conditioners.
We often don’t realize that the technology we use every day to support our digital lives contributes to our energy consumption. And as such, this technology is one of the many components of global efforts to transition to clean energy.
In many areas, the technology sector is leading the way in transitioning to clean energy and can be an inspiration to us as individuals and businesses to take part in this movement.
For example, Google is on the path toward creating a “cleaner” internet, where every search, email, photo upload and video watched on YouTube is powered by renewable energy.
Google reports that computing done in its data centers continues to grow, especially in 2020 as the world went online during the pandemic. According to data reported by the World Economic Forum last November, Google’s annual electricity consumption for operations to provide services to its consumers was 12 Terawatt-hours (TWh) as of May 2021.
Terawatt-hours (that’s one trillion watts per hour) is used to measure huge amounts of energy. We’re talking energy consumption rivaling that of small countries. For example, Switzerland has an annual electricity consumption of 56 TWh.
To address its high energy consumption, Google’s goal is to run its operations on “round-the-clock” clean energy by 2030. It plans to achieve this goal by omitting carbon completely from its operations, which also includes transitioning electric grids to carbon-free energy.
Since 2017, Google has been working to match 100 percent of its global annual electricity consumption with renewable energy and says it has been successful. The company reported that in total it signed agreements to buy power from more than 50 renewable energy projects, with a combined capacity of 5.5 GW, which is the same as a million solar rooftops.
Amazon also has an ambitious goal to power 100 percent of company activities with renewable energy by 2025. As of June 2021, Amazon’s total renewable energy investments were at 10 GW of electricity production capacity—enough to power 2.5 million U.S. homes, according to a press release from the company.
Renewable energy powers corporate offices, fulfillment centers and Amazon Web Services data centers that support millions of customers globally.
For its part, Apple plans to invest $4.7 billion from the proceeds of its Green Bond Sales into renewable energy projects in Nevada, Illinois, Virginia and Denmark. According to Apple, all of its data centers have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy since 2014.
One of its recently completed solar energy projects is a 180-acre site that provides power to Apple’s Nevada data center. This site is delivering 50 megawatts of renewable power to Apple, joining the company’s three other Nevada projects that deliver 270 megawatts. In addition, the project created 236 clean energy construction jobs of which more than 90 percent were filled by Nevada residents.
These are deliberate efforts to transition to clean energy in the tech industry. There are other areas in the digital world were sustainable energy needs to be addressed. One is in cryptocurrencies. Though not officially recognized as legal currency in most countries, there’s no doubt that there’s a lot of monetary value in cryptocurrencies, most notably bitcoin. According to Investopedia, bitcoin reached an all-time high of $68,790 in November.
Bitcoin has a high energy consumption because computers verify and record every transaction made with the cryptocurrency. According to figures reported by the World Economic Forum, bitcoin’s annual electricity consumption as of May 2021 was a whopping 143 TWh.
Experts predict that a growing need to mainstream bitcoin and regulate the cryptocurrency market overall is likely to accelerate research into reducing the cost of storing renewable energy.
Locally, businesses can take part in the transition to renewable energy. For example, Guam Public Law 35-46, which was signed in 2019, requires Guam Power Authority to include 50 percent renewable energy in its portfolio by 2035 and 100 percent by 2045. To meet this goal, the utility has made its own investments in solar renewable projects, while businesses and individuals receive incentives for contributing.
Currently, net metering allows Guam residents or businesses that have invested in solar photovoltaics to receive credit for any excess energy that is transferred to the GPA grid. This helps offset the costs of power drawn from the utility. However, net metering is capped at 10 percent of the island’s peak power demand, which means there’s a limit to how many credits an individual or business could receive.
To address this, Sen. Clynt Ridgell introduced a bill in January 2021 to raise the net metering cap to 20 percent of the island’s peak demand. This bill has yet to proceed through the legislative process but has the potential to further incentivize the private sector to invest in solar energy.
These efforts are steps toward a direction that all countries are headed in. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2026, global renewable electricity capacity could rise to more than 60 percent from 2020 levels, which is equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined. Renewables are expected to account for almost 95 percent of the increase in global power capacity through 2026, with solar providing more than half.
This tells me that, conservatively, we can expect to see a mix of renewable energy and other energy sources.
Obviously not all businesses have the budgets of Apple, Google, or Amazon to invest in renewable energy, but they can take steps toward adopting renewable energy for their business and, in the long term, their community. It starts with a couple of solar panels on a building’s roof.
From there, it could blossom into the electrification of more products of service, which is where technology that previously relied on other forms of energy—such as electric cars—will shift to being powered by electricity.
Ultimately, the goal is cleaner energy and a cleaner environment for our community and future generations.
— Jay R. Shedd is executive vice president of CPL, the parent company of PTI Pacific Inc. which does business as IT&E, IP&E. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, business development, sales, and marketing.