All the political unrest over presidential attacks on clean energy initiatives has tempers are flaring. Many environmental activists have been in an uproar about President Trump’s open plans to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.
With all the negativity surrounding our nation’s clean energy goals, non-governmental initiatives stand out like bright stars. The use of renewable energy has been a growing trend among tech leaders and private sector organizations. Companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook have taken huge leaps in progressing environmental awareness.
There’s been a growing trend of emerging growth and construction in Silicon Valley. Tech giants are redesigning their headquarters to further incorporate their green initiatives. It started with Facebook’s fresh campus, “Frank Gehry.” Next Apple has announced the nearing completion of “Apple Park,” the world’s largest naturally-ventilated building to be completed mid-April. Now it’s Google’s turn.
Google’s new renderings for headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. have just been approved by city’s council. The 18.6-acre campus, “Charleston East” features a 2-story, 595,000-square-foot building topped with a prominent, tent-like roof. After design finalizations, they’ll be breaking ground this month with projections for a 30-month construction timeline.
Last December Google determined their data centers and offices would be run by 100% renewable energy sometime this year. In line with green goals, Charleston East has numerous healthful features. From solar panel roofing with reusable captured water to food waste reduction and a campus full of accessible greenery, Google inspires a healthful, collaborative culture.
Charleston East: A Community Hub
The Google campus has been designed with a clear focus on involvement. The green loop design provides an artery to liven community interaction. The loop runs along the greenery and through a series of pavilions, ranging from smaller collaboration spaces to a grand public plaza. This provides ample opportunity for conversations in quieter, more intimate spaces. There’s a pedestrian and cyclist path that connects to surrounding parks as well as to the larger Google campus.
Now locals and curious visitors can join explore Google’s vibe through their welcoming ground floor design. There’s several cafes and shops lining the pathways. As part of their community outreach, Google hosts a variety of outdoor programming for locals every day and night.
Google campus aims to create an innovative building that promotes creative collaboration. Charleston East openly encourages exercise and fresh air for employees, residents and visitors to enjoy.
Google has been true to their word in implementing more renewable energy resources. For the Charleston East construction site, they have included solar roofing panels. The solar panels will generate about four megawatts of power. In addition to green energy solar roofing, the roof structure will also capture water for reuse.
THE CANOPIED CAMPUS
Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Heatherwick’s Studio designed the Google campus renderings. The Copenhagen and New York-based group BIG specializes in urbanism, interior design, and landscape design. Heatherwick Studio is better known for its creative methodology. They specialize in designing workspaces that fulfill the culture’s spirit in an inventive way.
The original blueprints included a see-through glass design. Now there’s a curved, gray metal structure that creates a tent-like canopy over Google operations. The gargantuan metal roof has been a major element of contention.
Some critics believe the “dark cloud” goes against Google’s values of openness and accountability. Regardless of ridicule, the massive roof enables climate, air quality and sound regulation. That’s a huge perk for a comfortable and productive environment.
The campus has been nestled between an urban area on the south and a natural frontier on the northern side. The square layout has an alternating building and open space design amidst the greenery and landscaping.
MOUNTAIN VIEW CITY COUNCIL
It makes sense that they’re cultivating a positive neighboring relationship, since the locals apparently have had a substantial say in the final result of the design. Google and the city’s grand vision includes a priority on green mobility, specifically for pedestrians, buses and bicycles. This will help to reduce traffic in the area.
The tech leader megacorporation has had to go through many obstacles. The city board had refused the land they wanted for their initial renderings, which were released in March 2015. At one point Google switched land spaces with LinkedIn. In 2016, Google and LinkedIn officials announced their mutually beneficial land swap.
There have since been many revisions that Google has passed through the city planning board. But now they’re ready to break ground.
Clean Energy Goals: Hitting 100%
Google is one of the first corporations to create large-scale and long-term contracts to buy their own renewable energy. Since they started their green-energy drive in 2010 Google has invested over $3.5 billion on renewable-energy projects around the world. With about two-thirds of those running in the U.S.
A wind farm in Iowa, with producing capacity of 114-watt each year, marked their first environmentally-friendly power purchase. They signed a 20-year contract on that one. They’re buying all of their own energy banks to maintain control for sustained usage.
Last December Urs Holzle, Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure, announced that Google would be running their global operations on 100% renewable energy by 2017.
That includes all of their offices and data centers. For everyone else, that means the servers handling your Google Maps requests and Gmail needs will use only emissions-free energy. With trillions of Google searches each year and over 400 hours of YouTube videos uploaded each minute, they’ll need a lot of power. And that’s all planned to finalize this year.
ENERGY- EFFICIENCY PLANS
With all the wind and solar power plants that they’ve been acquiring, they plan to hit their mark.
They recently bought an extensive wind farm east of San Francisco and a solar plant in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The only concern about running on green energy all the time is its dependency on the weather. The wind won’t be blowing 24 hours a day every day. To account for this unpredictability, Holzle says Google will generate enough surplus to offset what it now uses from conventional utility grids.
Data centers are the backbone of the internet with their ability to process and store huge loads of information. While data centers are notorious for hogging energy, Google’s specially-engineered design accommodate for this factor. Their data centers are said to be 50% more energy efficient than typical industry standards.
With Charleston East, Google will incorporate energy-efficient sustainable design for greater health and green accessibility for employees. They will help perverse the vitality of the local ecology and native habitats, especially in the North Bayshore area. Moving in this direction will help them take part in reducing their huge carbon footprint and start to address climate change.
One way of reducing the carbon footprint is through leaving the car at home. Google encourages their employees to do so with a bicycle master plan. They have radically improved the infrastructure to provide low-stress cycling environments. Copenhagen’s biking paradise has served as Google’s inspiration. With high-quality biking routes, the majority of employees can enjoy comfortable cycling commuting options.
Google has even been putting their food waste to good use. Global program manager of Google Food Kristen Rainey has made it her mission to reduce food waste. Rainey specifically seeks out vendors with “ugly produce” to buy from. This means buying “blemished” produce that would otherwise go to waste. This provides a win-win situation for reducing waste and getting Google a discount. Since starting this program in 2015, Google cafes have saved 440,540 pounds of would-be food waste in the Bay Area.
From solar panels on the roofs to their bike-to-work program and reducing food waste, Google is making an impact on the environment.
CHEAPER RENEWABLE ENERGY
What’s great about all these tech leaders moving towards renewable energy, it’s more than just an excellent public image. It just makes sense. Renewable energy is getting cheaper and cheaper, providing clear benefits for company’s bottom line.
Since 2012, solar energy prices have dropped by 80%. Similarly, wind power has dropped 60 percent. Solar and wind power are starting to compete with natural gas and coal for affordability as well as accessibility.
Additionally, clean energy is great for companies managing their future expenses. Wind and solar projects are typically certified on 10 or 20 year contracts.
Overall leading tech companies have accounted for two-thirds of all corporate renewable deals since 2010. Last year renewable energy investments hit a new record at $286 billion, which has really helped to drive costs down. With cheaper costs and inspiring leaders, renewables are more appealing than ever.
While there’s lots of progress left to be made towards improving our environment, these initiatives and innovative construction projects provide a breath of fresh air.
Charleston East completion projections are set for 2019. For more information on Google’s energy initiatives, check out their environmental report.