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Google will be powered completely by clean energy next year

[NEW YORK] Google, the world's biggest corporate buyer of clean energy, expects to reach a major milestone next year: running the company entirely with wind and solar power.

The Alphabet Inc unit has been pursuing the goal since at least 2012, "but I didn't think it would happen so fast," Gary Demasi, Google's director of global infrastructure and energy, said in an interview.

"We've seen prices come down precipitously, which has helped us ramp up."

Google expects to purchase enough clean power in 2017 to meet or exceed all of its consumption at its offices and 13 data centres; it used 5.7 terawatts of energy in 2015.

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The company signed its first renewable-energy deal in 2010 and now has contracts for 2.6 gigawatts of capacity from 20 wind and solar farms worldwide.

The projects required about US$3.5 billion to build, and about US$2 billion went for power plants in the US, Mr Demasi said. 

Businesses are significant drivers of clean power, and 83 major companies worldwide have pledged to power all of their operations with renewable energy as part of the global fight against climate change, under the RE100 initiative.

Companies signed deals to procure 1.1 gigawatts of green power the year before Google began its push, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That swelled to a record 5.1 gigawatts in 2015.

US-based tech companies are the leading global corporate buyers of clean energy. Inc is the second-biggest buyer with 1.2 gigawatts, according to New Energy Finance. Microsoft Corp has signed 500 megawatts of power-purchase agreements.

"Google led the way in actual activity, but also in broadcasting what they were doing to the public, effectively peer-pressuring other companies to sign corporate PPAs as well," Nathan Serota, a New York-based analyst at BNEF, said in an interview.

In 2015, when 44 per cent of its electricity needs were met by renewables, Google signed about one gigawatt of clean-energy contracts. Many of those projects will be operational next year.

The company will sign additional deals to support growth in regions where it has data centres and significant operations, and also plans to use technologies that provide around-the-clock clean energy.

"We really consider this a first step," Mr Demasi said.

"Climate change is real and a crisis of our time."