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Google builds energy-efficient datacentre in US coal power plant

Internet giant Google has said it intends to use a decommissioned coal power plant's infrastructure to deliver renewable energy to its next US datacentre

Google has reinforced its commitment to running the world’s most efficient cloud platform by announcing plans to repurpose the site of a US coal power plant to build its 14th global datacentre.

Google will build the facility on the site of the Widows Creek coal power plant in Alabama. Operations at the plant have gradually shut down since May 2012. The last of its eight power-generating units is set to close in October 2015.

In a blog post, Patrick Gammons , senior manager of Google’s datacentre energy and location strategy unit, said the search giant plans to re-use the site’s existing electrical infrastructure to deliver renewable energy to the facility.

“At Widows Creek, we can use the plants’ many electric transmission lines to bring in lots of renewable energy to power our new datacentre,” Gammons said.

“Thanks to an arrangement with Tennessee Valley Authority, our electric utility, we’ll be able to scout new renewable energy projects to bring the power onto their electrical grid.”

Gammons spoke of the benefits of redeveloping an existing industrial site to build its datacentre over choosing a greenfield plot.

“Decades of investment shouldn’t go to waste just because a site has closed; we can repurpose existing electric and other infrastructure to make sure our datacentres are reliably serving our users around the world,” he added.

Environmental commitments

The datacentre development news coincided with the Google Next conference in east London this week, where the company’s vice-president of global markets, Carl Schachter, said driving up the amount of renewable energy it uses is a top priority.

“The reality is we’ve created servers and facilities processes that allow us to offer twice the efficiency of the average datacentre out there. It’s a huge differentiator for us and something we think the world wants to see in our performance,” he said.

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“Thirty-five per cent of the energy that powers our cloud platforms comes from renewable energy sources. The other 65% comes from carbon offset, and our goal is to get to 100%.”

To date, Schachter said, the company has invested $2bn in alternative energy sources, because the company doesn’t want the growth of its cloud activities to be a “burden” on the planet.

“In terms of our innovation, we want to make sure we’re providing you with a more efficient way of gaining infrastructure to realise your ideas and the impact we have on the planet has to be innovative as well,” he added.

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