Google has contracted to buy the output of a 61MW solar plant to offset the energy needs of its data center in Lenoir, North Carolina.

The search giant has signed a power purchase agreeement (PPA) with Duke Energy, the largest utility in the US to buy the output of a solar farm in Rutherford County, North Carolina. The 61MW involved is enough to power the entire $1.2 billion Lenoir facility.

solar thinkstock
– Thinkstock

First Duke PPA 

Google’s Lenoir data center was begun in 2007, and expanded in 2013, taking Google’s investment to $1.2 billion. When it expanded the site, Google proposed a PPA program to Duke Energy that would allow large consumers to purchase renewable energy in bulk to offset their energy use. Two years later, Duke has navigated the regulatory landscape, and come up with a scheme where big users buy energy directly from Duke so they don’t have to be involved in the buliding and running of the renewable projects.

”By working closely with providers like Duke, we’re now able to benefit from North Carolina’s emerging solar energy industry and pave the way for other big customers to do the same,” said Gary Demasi, Google data center energy strategist, in a blog post. ”This is the first time that we’re purchasing solar power in enough volume to power one of our data centers and it takes us another step towards our goal to eventually power 100 percent of our operations with renewable energy.”

Years back, Google invested directly in solar and other renewable energy, but in recent years has adopted the PPA strategy, which supports utilities developing renewable energy sources. Other cloud giants including Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have been taking the same route.

Google’s renewable investments till now have been skewed towards wind energy, including a 62MW purchase in The Netherlands announced a year ago. It has also bought into wind energy projects in Oklahoma and Sweden.

Dumaris says Google is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world, with long term contracts to buy 1.2GW of power, and wants ”to encourage the countries and states in which we operate our data centers to add more renewable energy to their grids.”

Microsoft and Amazon recently increased their renewable energy commitments by signing power purchase agreements for more wind power in the proverbially windy areas of Chicago and Oklahoma.