Motivated by the will to make the earth a carbon-free place, companies across the globe consistently strive to devise technological solutions. The revolutionary service of Cloud by Google deserves special mention for its disruptive impact. In a recent Q&A with Charlotte Hutchinson, Cloud Sustainability Specialist, Google, we explored the intricacies and implications of this remarkable service.

#CTS: In your opinion, what role do you see cloud technology playing in the global transition towards a sustainable and environmentally conscious economy? What are some emerging trends and innovations in sustainable cloud computing that sustainability professionals should be aware of?

Charlotte Hutchinson: At Google, we have a unique opportunity to help lead the transition to a more sustainable future by making information accessible and by driving innovation forward. Grounded in our mission, we are empowering individuals, organizations and governments with quality information through our products and platforms — like Search, Maps, Data Commons, and Google Cloud — that billions of people engage with every day to help make decisions that will drive positive action for our planet. With our deep legacy in research and breakthroughs we’re making in AI, we can give people new ways of accessing information and accelerate innovation to tackle climate change.

  • Empowering individuals to take action. People are turning to Google for answers on how to live more sustainably, with Search interest in terms like electric vehicles, solar energy and thrift stores growing. We are empowering individuals with the context they are seeking to help make more sustainable choices including things such as Eco Routing in Google Maps.
  • Working together with our partners and customers. We’re building tools to enable others to become more resilient in the face of climate change. We’re providing partners with information to reduce their emissions, and advance transformative technology for climate action.

For our Google Cloud customers, we’re providing powerful insights to help companies predict climate risk, increase visibility across their supply chain, and reduce their emissions. Google Earth Engine on Google Cloud gives businesses, governments, and scientific researchers the ability to analyze planetary-level satellite data, enabling companies like Unilever to raise sustainable sourcing standards for its suppliers.

Google also powers tools around flood forecasting: Today we use artificial intelligence (AI) to develop hyper-local models that can forecast where floods will occur, which allows us to help identify in advance who needs to be warned of danger, and no less importantly, where they can go to be safe. We’ve partnered with governments in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Brazil to deliver emergency flood alerts across their countries, to help protect nearly 500M people who live in flood-affected areas. Today with this technology we can predict up to seven days before a flood hits.

The biggest trend we are seeing at the moment is around AI and machine learning (ML). We believe that technology can and must play a crucial role in facilitating the transition to a lower-carbon world, and that AI can play a key role. Google has been working on the sustainable use of technology for a long time – across efficiency and emission reductions. By leveraging AI, we’re able to develop solutions and products that benefit people and society.

#CTS: In view of the population explosion worldwide, the energy consumption is tremendous. Help us understand the role of cloud computing in reducing the burden on our energy resources?

Charlotte Hutchinson: Cloud data centers are significantly more energy efficient than on-premises data centers. Google hyperscale data centers have a PUE of 1.10.

While data centers now power more applications for more people than ever before, gains in efficiency have seen the share of global electricity consumption remain constant at 1 percent since 2010. Google’s data centers are designed, built and operated to maximize the efficient use of resources– we strive to ensure each data center accelerates the transition to renewable energy and low or zero-carbon solutions.

On average, a Google-owned and -operated data center is 1.5 times as energy efficient as a typical enterprise data center and, compared with five years ago, we now deliver approximately three times as much computing power with the same amount of electrical power.  (ER2023)

Our carbon-intelligent platform uses day-ahead predictions to shift flexible compute tasks to times of the day when, and data center locations where, carbon-free energy sources are more plentiful.

Using ML, we can predict wind power output 36 hours ahead of actual generation, increasing the value of wind energy.

#CTS: Can you tell us more about Google aiming to be Net Zero and how other companies can follow in your footsteps?Can you provide examples of how Google Cloud technology has helped businesses reduce their carbon footprint and become more sustainable?

Charlotte Hutchinson: We’re building on our leadership in climate and clean energy by setting ambitious goals to reduce our own emissions and accelerate the global transition to a net-zero economy. And, our 24/7 carbon-free energy (CFE) efforts are already driving transformations beyond our own operations by unlocking investments in CFE generation, and creating tools and approaches for procuring clean energy around the clock, helping to transition global energy systems towards a carbon-free future.

  • In 2017, we became the first major company to match 100% of our annual electricity use with renewable energy.
  • Today, we’re pursuing net-zero emissions across our operations and value chain by 2030, supported by an ambitious clean energy goal to operate our data centers and office campuses on 24/7 carbon-free energy.
  • Google data centers are 1.5x as energy efficient as a typical data center, and using our ML capabilities and recommendations, we can predict wind power output 36 hours ahead of actual generation, increasing the value of clean energy.
  • We have a target to replenish 120% of the water we consume by 2030 across our offices and data centers, and aim to become a circular Google — helping speed up the transition to an economy in which business creates environmental, economic and community value through the maximum reuse of finite resources.

We also make it easy for customers to accurately report and take action on the carbon emissions associated with their Google Cloud usage — with tools from our Carbon Sense Suite, including Active Assist and Carbon Footprint.

In the UK our cloud region and offices are on track to operate at or near 90% carbon-free energy in 2025 thanks to a long-term power purchase agreement to bring 100 megawatts of offshore wind energy generation capacity from ENGIE to the grid in the UK.

#CTS: How do Google's data centres provide economic, social, and environmental benefits to communities around the globe?

Charlotte Hutchinson: We are committed to being active members of the communities we call home. Google operates data centers around the world. Whenever you access Gmail, edit your documents, watch a YouTube video, or search for information on Google, you're using one of our data centers and have the power of a supercomputer at your fingertips.We partner closely with local leaders to engage on initiatives that are most important to the community. For example, in many of our rural data center communities we have played an active role in making public WiFi more widely available.

While data centers now power more applications for more people than ever before, gains in efficiency have seen the share of global electricity consumption remain constant at 1 percent since 2010. Google’s data centers are designed, built and operated to maximize the efficient use of resources– we strive to ensure each data center accelerates the transition to renewable energy and low or zero-carbon solutions.

For more than a decade, we’ve worked to make Google data centers some of the most efficient in the world, improving their environmental performance even as demand for our products has dramatically risen.

We’ve done this by designing, building, and operating each data center to maximize efficient use of energy, water, and materials. For example, compared with five years ago, we deliver around 3x as much computing power with the same amount of electricity.

Similar to your personal computer, data centers generate heat and must be cooled through air cooling, water cooling, refrigerants or some combination of these solutions. The best approach depends on local factors — there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Our climate-conscious cooling strategy aims to support these hyperlocal decisions. . Climate-conscious cooling is our multi-dimensional, data-driven approach that evaluates hyperlocal hydrology, geography, energy and emissions factors to identify the most effective cooling solution for each campus — whether that is air cooling, water cooling, refrigerants or a combination.

Our goal is to achieve zero waste across all our data centers, defined as minimizing waste generation and maximizing the reuse of products and materials as much as possible while diverting 90% or more of solid waste from landfills. We’re using several circularity strategies to get closer to this goal, such as repairing components whenever possible to extend the life of servers.

#CTS: How can the London Climate Technology Show play a part in furthering the adoption and development of cloud computing technologies to promote sustainability and reduce carbon emissions in industries such as data centres and information technology?

Charlotte Hutchinson: The conference shows us that we are entering a new era in which we will see a global race to establish and scale planet-saving technologies.

Efficiency is also a priority, to make good on these commitments and ensure energy and resource reductions are actually happening. Technology can play an important role here, as well, as companies like Google Cloud have shown.

The London Climate Technology show is a welcome forum and platform for professionals in this space to come together and share ideas. At the Google Cloud stand we are really keen to meet and talk to as many people as possible about how you can use all types of business data and geospatial data to solve big sustainable challenges.