Google announced a package of renewables deals on Thursday totaling 1,600 megawatts, which the tech behemoth says is the largest corporate renewables purchase in history.

Made up of 18 deals, Google’s projects will be built across the U.S., Europe and in Chile. The company said the purchases will increase its total wind and solar agreements by more than 40 percent. 

The ambitious announcement comes just a day ahead of planned walkouts at the company, with hundreds of Google employees expected to join a global, youth-organized “Climate Strike” protesting a lack of action on climate change. Young activists have been striking for climate action for months of Fridays, but the September 20 demonstration is expected to be much larger — in the millions, based on some projections — in the lead-up to a United Nations climate summit in New York starting September 23.

Employees from Google will join others from tech companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, who have also criticized their employers for lackluster climate commitments and ties to fossil fuels.

Amazon, too

Amazon joined Google in dropping a big commitment on Thursday, announcing plans to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and net-zero carbon by 2040. In a statement, CEO Jeff Bezos said Amazon was "done being in the middle of the herd on this issue." Recent reporting from Gizmodo suggested Amazon's clean energy plans had "stalled out" while the company courted oil and gas customers for its web services.  

Even when companies lock in 100 percent renewables commitments, it can be tricky to quantify their environmental impact. A company's demand for renewables doesn't necessarily shut down fossil fuel plants and encourage building new wind or solar in their place.

Last year, Google said it had already “matched” all of the electricity it consumes to renewable energy, meaning its purchases of renewables met the amount of electricity its global operations consumed. The company also holds itself to the more rigorous standard of “additionality,” which means its demand results in new renewables projects on the grid.* Last year, Google also outlined a goal to acquire enough renewable energy to support its load centers “in all places, at all times.” 

“We’re not buying power from existing wind and solar farms, but instead are making long-term purchase commitments that result in the development of new projects,” wrote CEO Sundar Pichai of Google's 1,600-megawatt announcement in a note published Thursday.

Facebook — the largest corporate purchaser of U.S. renewables in 2018 and so far in 2019, according to the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance — also prioritizes additionality in its renewables purchases. 

More than half of the new Google projects are solar, following on a trend of corporate renewables purchasers turning toward offsite solar as a low-cost option. Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables forecasts solar will overtake wind in the mid-2020s as the go-to choice for offsite corporate renewables purchases. 

In the U.S., all of Google's new projects will be solar, with 75 megawatts in South Carolina and 490 megawatts in Texas. 

“Up to now, most of our renewable energy purchases in the U.S. have been wind-driven, but the declining cost of solar…has made harnessing the sun increasingly cost-effective,” wrote Pichai. 

In addition to its own investments, Google said it will give $500,000 to the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, a membership group that helps corporations purchase renewable energy, and €500,000 ($552,932) to RE-Source, a European event that connects corporations with clean energy suppliers. 

“These grants will help fund the development of new purchasing models, provide training and resources for consumers and enable more widespread access to clean power,” Pichai’s note states.

*Correction: this article originally incorrectly stated that Google recently began focusing on additionality. The technology company has actually used additionality in its renewables strategy for several years. 


Related research: 'Analysis of Commercial and Industrial Wind Energy Demand in the United States' (Wood Mackenzie)