Google’s data-processing hub in Berkeley County uses more energy from natural gas- and coal-fired power plants than its other facilities in the country, a report from the company shows.
In an ambitious clean energy commitment released Monday, the search engine and online advertising giant broke down how much carbon-free power each of its data centers in the world consumes.
Nineteen percent of the energy the Berkeley County site uses comes from carbon-free sources, the smallest percentage among Google’s 11 U.S. sites.
The low ranking reflects a slower transition to renewable energy in the Southeast rather than the company’s choice of power sources. The data center off Highway 52 purchases its power through Berkeley Electric Cooperative, which is supplied by Santee Cooper.
Plans are underway to bring more solar power to the regional grid, affecting Google and South Carolina households alike.
Information that is stored “on the cloud,” is kept in a data center, where groups of smaller servers are networked together. As the amount of data increases, so does the need for more electricity.
Google said Monday that it intends “to run on carbon-free energy everywhere, at all times” by 2030. The majority of the strategy to reach that goal lies in purchasing more clean power.
“These trends mean that carbon-based resources are simply no longer necessary to compensate for the variability of renewables, and true round-the-clock clean energy is achievable,” it said in the report.
That commitment includes South Carolina, where Google has operated its data center for more than a decade.
The company is a partner in a deal announced about a year ago to install a pair of solar fields in Orangeburg County that will produce 150 megawatts of energy when they come online in 2022.
And Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the Moncks Corner-based utility is currently reviewing bids to add up to 500 megawatts of solar capacity.
“We are moving towards a significantly more renewable mix,” she said.
Santee Cooper’s energy reform plan calls for it to have 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2024 and a “leaner, greener resource mix.” When the the state-owned utility closes four generating units in Georgetown, they will be replaced by a “combination of renewable and natural gas,” Gore said.
In Oklahoma, where a Google data center runs on 96 percent carbon-free energy, partly because the open plains make wind power cheap and plentiful.
The state has the third-greatest wind energy capacity in the U.S., the American Wind Energy Association says. In South Carolina, meanwhile, not a single wind turbine is live, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Wind power is limited in the Southeast. But the region lags behind in the shift to renewable energy overall. Google’s data center in Georgia scores second-worst in carbon-free energy usage in the country. And a USA Today ranking placed South Carolina 40th in a ranking of states’ production of renewables.
Eddy Moore, energy and climate program director at the Coastal Conservation League, said the price of renewable energy is dropping quickly. He said much of South Carolina is still relying on outdated power plants built decades ago, and the business case for utilities to switch to renewables is becoming harder to deny.
“Renewable energy is cheaper,” he said. “We’re clinging to old fossil fuel power plants that can’t compete on either price or function.”
A bill making its way through the Statehouse would fund a study to investigate energy market reform in South Carolina. The costs of the study would be paid by utilities under the proposed legislation. Google is among the bill’s major corporate supporters, Moore said.
John Tynan, the executive director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina, applauded Google’s commitment and said the company is a leader in renewable energy. Tynan said he believes other companies are likely to push for similar goals in the coming year.
The global tire company Bridgestone, for instance, vowed to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2050.
Tynan, whose organization lobbies the General Assembly for renewable energy policies, was not surprised to hear Google’s South Carolina data center was using more power from fossil fuels than its other locations.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but with groups like Google, the solar industry and conservation organizations pushing, I’m confident we can get there,” he said.
Andrew Brown of The Post and Courier contributed to this report. Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.