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Google's Green Energy Scheme: Laudable or Laughable?

A Google initiative to pay more for renewable energy at its data center in Lenoir, N.C., spurred a variety of reactions from readers. Some saw it as a step forward for green energy; others call it plain dumb.

Last week, Google announced a program in North Carolina that would allow businesses to voluntarily pay utilities more money for power that comes from renewable energy sources.

My InformationWeek colleague Tom Claburn wrote "In keeping with previous commitments to support renewable energy, Google announced that Duke Energy, which supplies power to Google's Lenoir, N.C., data center, has agreed to implement a program to help large companies like Google buy renewable power."

Data centers are notorious consumers of power, so Google's move looks like a commitment to making the information technology industry a little more green by getting power from renewable sources such as wind and solar--and it seems the search giant is willing to pay to make it happen.

Of course, folks tend to have strong opinions about green energy (and electrical utilities), so I asked readers of our Network Computing newsletter what they made of this initiative. The responses ranged from applause to skepticism to outright condemnation.

For instance, Michael Y wrote, "...a friend from Denmark told me when you sign up with the electric company, consumers can choose the source of your power--wind, solar, water, etc. You pay different rates depending on the source. When people sign up for alternate sources, the power companies are then required to invest more in that technology to meet the demand. It struck me as incredibly democratic and progressive."

Other respondents liked the idea of getting power from renewable sources, but wondered whether Google's approach would actually spur more investment in renewables.

James wrote, "If Duke Power is anything like our local power company, the Google investment will likely end up in the pockets of shareholders instead of in green power development. While Google's is a laudable goal, I think they would be better served to invest directly in green power instead of through a power utility."

Stu Gordon, Sr. P.M. noted, "Paying higher amounts for power from renewable sources is wrong. The right way is to improve the mechanics of renewable energy and make it competitive. Please realize that electricity from renewable sources is still high, even after receiving all the government subsidies. Google is another organization telling us what to do, because they know better than the rest of us. I have a suggestion for Google: pay taxes like the rest of us before you tell us what to think or do."

Rolf Sperber doubts Google's gesture will have a significant impact: "Google built its data centers in North Carolina because dirty energy was and is cheap there. So I guess they are just trying not to look evil. I doubt that companies that have energy-intensive production would pay more for clean energy; just look at services being moved from Germany to Poland to Romania and finally to India or Bangladesh. It's only profit that counts, and as long as no one has to take external effects into account, there will be no change in production paradigms."

Lastly, one respondent scoffed at the notion of paying more for green energy, and called it a waste of money.

"I have to throw the BS flag on anything like this. I have a friend who is a retired federal government power administrator. He says the following:

• The grid is the grid. There is no way to send green power to one point on the grid and other power to another point.

• The sun doesn't shine all the time, and the wind doesn't blow all the time. You still need at least 85% of capacity load available from something other than renewable power.

Anyone who is willing to pay more for "clean" or "green" power is something other than intelligent or thinking. Unless you are off the grid and creating your own "clean" power or have a direct line to someone who is, you get the mixture of what is on the grid. If you create your own, then you must consider that the sun doesn't shine all the time and the wind doesn't blow all the time, so what do you do then? Turn on your diesel generators? Those are clean, aren't they?

Here in Colorado, Excel Energy will allow you to buy "clean renewable energy" at a premium. Sounds like a revenue enhancement to them and a "feel good" waste of money to those who want to.

You can weigh in using our comments section below.

Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio
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