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Google publishes green energy metric for cloud customers

Google Cloud's CFE% metric shows the percentage of renewable energy powering applications at each region

Google Cloud has launched the Carbon-Free Energy Percentage (CFE%), a metric that allows customers to find its greenest data centers. 

The CFE% provides climate-conscious customers with a number that reflects the average mix of carbon-free and fossil-fuel energy that is used to power Google's data centers in each region. The higher the percentage, the more carbon-free power was used at that particular region.  

For example, Google's Iowa data center has a CFE% of 78%, which means that data center applications in this region are, on average, running on carbon-free energy more than three-quarters of the time. 

Google began buying enough carbon credits and renewable energy to offset its fossil fuel usage in 2007, and since 2017, the company had purchased enough solar and wind energy to match 100% of its global electricity consumption

However, like most technology firms striving for a green cloud the company still uses fossil fuels to power some of its operations. In September 2020, Google announced plans to abandon fossil fuels completely by 2030, using renewable energy for each local data enter drawn from the same regional grid.

Today's announcement helps track the company's progress. Each CFE% metric is calculated hourly by monitoring which power plants are feeding the grid, along with the amount of clean energy that Google is contributing. 

The data also shows the regional grid's carbon intensity by calculating carbon emissions per unit of energy from that regional grid. 

The company doesn't yet have data to cover all its regions, with most of its Asian sites missing. However, the figures show Europe and the US outperforming Asia and Australia, reflecting the advances made in renewable energy in the West. While Taiwan has a CFE% of 19% and Singapore just 3%, Oregon - the leading region - has 89%.

Still, not all US regions were equal. South Carolina lagged at 19%, while Las Vegas limped on 13%. The company's Sydney data center also under-performed compared to most of Europe and North America with a CFE% of just 11%.

Google advises customers concerned about green energy to use this data, along with the cloud's ability to move workloads around. Assuming data residency requirements allow it, companies can pick cleaner regions for new applications and batch jobs and can also use policies to restrict the regions they use, helping them to meet their own internal guidelines.

Google's wasn't the only big tech energy announcement this week, as Apple also announced that it has helped to create 1.2 gigawatts of energy via its green bonds.

The company began releasing these bonds, which fund environmental projects to reduce its carbon footprint, in 2016. It has now committed $4.7 billion to the bonds, which complement its Clean Energy Program. Apple funded a total of 17 green bond projects last year, which will eliminate an average of 921,000 metric tons of carbon emissions annually, it said.

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