Posting in Design
Google has invested US$55M into Terra-Gen Power's Alta Wind Energy Center. Renewable energy will help Google power its data centers into the future.
Google is furthering its strategic commitment to the development of renewable energy, today announcing that it will contribute US$55 million in financing toward Terra-Gen Power’s Alta Wind Energy Center in Kern County, Calif.
The investment is part of a financial structure called leveraged lease, where Google and Citibank will acquire the project to lease it back to Terra-Gen. Terra-Gen will oversee the site’s day-to-day operations.
"We hope this structure encourages more investment by enabling other types of investors who might not typically consider wind projects," Rick Needham, director of green business operation, wrote in his company blog today.
In July, Terra-Gen announced that it had secured $1.2 billion round of construction financing to build four wind power projects. Alta Project I broke ground in March 2010.
The wind farm is being built in five different phases; its final capacity is planned to be around 1,550 MW. Note that the project’s initial design called for 3000 MW. Google’s $55M will go toward building the 102 MW Alta IV project.
The first four projects will generate an estimated 570 megawatts of capacity, and will use turbines manufactured by Vestas.
Google has invested heavily in renewable energy this year, and in April spent $100 million for a majority stake in the 845-megawatts Shepherds Flat wind power project in Oregon. Just days later it followed suit with a $168 million investment in BrightSource Energy’s 2,600 megawatts Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.
While Google certainly deserves some accolades for being a good corporate citizen, its motivation isn't purely altruistic. It is addressing a major business problem: the expense of running its massive data centers. Energy is the biggest roadblock to data center build outs.
There is only so much that can be done to maximize energy usage and lower costs. Renewable energy is key to Google’s capacity to grow and provide new, more advanced services for years to come.
May 24, 2011
Thinking about it some more and in contrast to my previous comment, this might make a good energy hedging strategy. Google has to worry about energy costs over the years-long life of a data center. A windmill has a fixed installation cost, and its maintenance costs are relatively low and predictable. I believe that the utilities in California have to buy the power based on prevailing rates. So if five years from now rates go up enormously, Google will automatically get a bigger return on its windmills to offset the higher rates it has to pay at its data centers. Windmills must still be cheaper than solar; otherwise Google could have done the same thing with a solar plant instead. Wind and solar are also more incremental than other kinds of power generation. Google's power demands are still small enough that building a small natural gas or coal plant to offset its power needs would be much more expensive and also subject to increases in fuel costs. Using wind or solar to hedge future power needs could actually make good sense for many businesses. The fact that it's renewable and good for the environment is not the main point, but a nice added benefit that's good PR.
This is more of a cost management strategy than an option towards providing electricity to their data centers. It's not like they run a power line from the windmills to their servers; they still have to hook up to the grid and if there are brownouts or other power failures in their area they will suffer the same as everybody else. At the margin their windmills might provide incremental power to the overall grid, but they won't stop a major power outage or shortage. And of course the windmills don't produce power 24/7, while their data centers require that (another reason why Google still depends on the grid). I would be interested to know how much the windmills cost per KWH versus hooking up to the grid, and what their actual power output is.