Google is one of the largest “cloud” based IT companies. Its business model is to put all of the world’s information online, an endeavor requiring large and energy voracious data centers. With the self-chosen motto, “Don’t Be Evil,” Google knows it has a huge carbon problem if the current electricity grid remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Google continues to be among the strongest of the IT companies in advocating government policy changes to drive low carbon sources of electricity, including support for national renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards. Google has also shown recent leadership in calling for the need for consumer access to information on their energy consumption, such as the data to be generated from smart meters.
However, Google has steadfastly refused to release any meaningful data on its own energy use or carbon emissions, citing concerns over disclosing information that could be used by its competitors, even though its arch-rival Microsoft is transparent on this issue. Google’s explosive growth through Gmail, YouTube, and its soon-to-be online library are ultimately driving emissions higher, not lower, and creating a greater demand for coal and other fossil fuels. While it has been one of the most thoughtful policy advocates among IT companies, Google’s advocacy would be much more credible if it admitted that it has a carbon problem and made policy changes to solve it.
Google’s solutions offering remains unchanged since the October 2009 version. PowerMeter provides real-time data to better manage home energy use but to date Google has not released any significant case studies on how this can reduce overall GHG emissions. In-depth analysis of possible savings from plug-in hybrids under the Recharge IT program provides a good example of how to measure actual overall impacts of climate solutions. Google can improve its score by applying a rigorous methodology to future case studies on the impact of PowerMeter.
Google has no emission reduction targets and does not release or disclose its own emissions. This lack of transparency puts Google significantly out of step with most other technology companies. Google claims to be carbon neutral, buying offset credits to compensate. Carbon neutral or not, the lack of transparency and the fact that its current investments in infrastructure are changing energy policy in the communities where they are built threaten to undermine the company's credibility as a climate leader. Google scores one out of five for investments in renewable energy research. It does not, however, have an overall target to increase renewables use.
Google remains the top scoring company on political advocacy thanks to a clear political position. Google's CEO Eric Schmidt spoke at length in November 2008 about the failure of the current political system and the need to get the right policies to drive transformative investment in clean energy technologies. Such technologies will create long-term economic growth while drastically reducing GHG emissions and dependence on foreign oil, as well as help to avoid the dangerous distractions of so-called clean coal and nuclear power, which take funding away from true renewables.