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(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

These days, if you’re an engineer, inventor or just a tinkerer with a garage, you don’t have to look far for a juicy opportunity: there are cash prize challenges dedicated to landing on the moon, building a self-driving car, cleaning the oceans, or inventing an extra-clever robot. Today, together with the IEEE, we’re adding one more: shrinking a big box into a little box.

Seriously.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Especially when the big box is a power inverter, a picnic cooler-sized device used to convert the energy that comes from solar, electric vehicles & wind (DC power) into something you can use in your home (AC power). We want to shrink it down to the size of a small laptop, roughly 1/10th of its current size. Put a little more technically, we’re looking for someone to build a kW-scale inverter with a power density greater than 50W per cubic inch. Do it best and we’ll give you a million bucks.


There will be obstacles to overcome (like the conventional wisdom of engineering). But whoever gets it done will help change the future of electricity. A smaller inverter could help create low-cost microgrids in remote parts of the world. Or allow you to keep the lights on during a blackout via your electric car’s battery. Or enable advances we haven’t even thought of yet.

Either way, we think it’s time to shine a light on the humble inverter, and the potential that lies in making it much, much smaller. Enter at littleboxchallenge.com—we want to know how small you can go.

Posted by Eric Raymond, Google Green Team

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Forget rumbling engines...More electric vehicles quietly hummed across the Googleplex than ever before on May 15th, as more than 600 Googlers participated in our annual electric vehicle test drive event. This year, with help from Plug-In America, we were excited to be the first corporate campus to hold an event as part of the Experience Electric campaign, funded by Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Twelve electric automotive and motorcycle manufacturers invited Googlers to test drive the latest and greatest plug-in cars and motorcycles. By giving our employees the opportunity explore and drive some of these electric cars and motorcycles, we hope some are inspired to switch out the gas pump for a charging cord. Among the models we checked out were:
Our hope is that by getting Googlers to test out new EV technologies, we help propel overall EV-adoption, a goal we vigorously support with a number of campus programs, like our GFleet, an on-site car share service that features EVs or our free on-campus charging for personal electric vehicles. We’ve grown our charging infrastructure to provide Level 2 charging capabilities at more than 750 parking spaces across our Mountain View headquarters and 11 other Google locations. Find out more on the Google Green site.

Posted by Rolf Schreiber, Technical Program Manager, Electric Transportation

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(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

It’s no secret that we’re obsessed with saving energy. For over a decade we’ve been designing and building data centers that use half the energy of a typical data center, and we’re always looking for ways to reduce our energy use even further. In our pursuit of extreme efficiency, we’ve hit upon a new tool: machine learning. Today we’re releasing a white paper on how we’re using neural networks to optimize data center operations and drive our energy use to new lows.

It all started as a 20 percent project, a Google tradition of carving out time for work that falls outside of one’s official job description. Jim Gao, an engineer on our data center team, is well-acquainted with the operational data we gather daily in the course of running our data centers. We calculate PUE, a measure of energy efficiency, every 30 seconds, and we’re constantly tracking things like total IT load (the amount of energy our servers and networking equipment are using at any time), outside air temperature (which affects how our cooling towers work) and the levels at which we set our mechanical and cooling equipment. Being a smart guy—our affectionate nickname for him is “Boy Genius”—Jim realized that we could be doing more with this data. He studied up on machine learning and started building models to predict—and improve—data center performance.



The mechanical plant at our facility in The Dalles, Ore. The data center team is constantly tracking the performance of the heat exchangers and other mechanical equipment pictured here.

What Jim designed works a lot like other examples of machine learning, like speech recognition: a computer analyzes large amounts of data to recognize patterns and “learn” from them. In a dynamic environment like a data center, it can be difficult for humans to see how all of the variables—IT load, outside air temperature, etc.—interact with each other. One thing computers are good at is seeing the underlying story in the data, so Jim took the information we gather in the course of our daily operations and ran it through a model to help make sense of complex interactions that his team—being mere mortals—may not otherwise have noticed.


A simplified version of what the models do: take a bunch of data, find the hidden interactions, then provide recommendations that optimize for energy efficiency.

After some trial and error, Jim’s models are now 99.6 percent accurate in predicting PUE. This means he can use the models to come up with new ways to squeeze more efficiency out of our operations. For example, a couple months ago we had to take some servers offline for a few days—which would normally make that data center less energy efficient. But we were able to use Jim’s models to change our cooling setup temporarily—reducing the impact of the change on our PUE for that time period. Small tweaks like this, on an ongoing basis, add up to significant savings in both energy and money.


The models can predict PUE with 99.6 percent accuracy.

By pushing the boundaries of data center operations, Jim and his team have opened up a new world of opportunities to improve data center performance and reduce energy consumption. He lays out his approach in the white paper, so other data center operators that dabble in machine learning (or who have a resident genius around who wants to figure it out) can give it a try as well.

Posted:
(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Just because Earth Day is over doesn’t mean we’re done doing good things for the planet. Yesterday we announced our biggest renewable energy purchase yet: an agreement with our Iowa utility partner to supply our data center facilities there with up to 407 megawatts of wind energy.

Today, we’re taking another step towards a clean energy future with a major new investment. Together with SunPower Corporation we’re creating a new $250 million fund to help finance the purchase of residential rooftop solar systems—making it easier for thousands of households across the U.S. to go solar. Essentially, this is how it works: Using the fund ($100 million from Google and $150 million from SunPower), we buy the solar panel systems. Then we lease them to homeowners at a cost that’s typically lower than their normal electricity bill. So by participating in this program, you don’t just help the environment—you can also save money.

A home sporting SunPower solar panels

SunPower delivers solar to residential, utility and commercial customers and also manufacturers its own solar cells and panels.They’re known for having high-quality, high reliability panels which can generate up to 50 percent more power per unit area, with guaranteed performance and lower degradation over time. That means that you can install fewer solar panels to get the same amount of energy. And SunPower both makes the panels and manages the installation, so the process is seamless.

This is our 16th renewable energy investment and our third residential rooftop solar investment (the others being with Solar City and Clean Power Finance). Overall we’ve invested more than $1 billion in 16 renewable energy projects around the world, and we’re always on the hunt for new opportunities to make more renewable energy available to more people—Earth Day and every day.

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We’ve been talking to MidAmerican Energy, our energy supplier in Iowa, about renewable energy since we started building our Iowa data center in 2007. Just in time for Earth Day, we now have a freshly inked agreement with MidAmerican Energy to supply our Iowa data center facilities with up to 407 MW of 100% renewable wind energy, as tracked by renewable energy certificates. This agreement will not only cover our current facilities but will allow for future expansion supplied by renewable energy as well.

This is our seventh and largest renewable energy commitment to date, bringing the total amount of renewable energy we’ve contracted for to over one gigawatt (1,000 megawatts).

We’ve entered into a few different kinds of agreements over the years - sometimes signing power purchase agreements (PPAs) with wind farm developers and sometimes working with our local utility partners. This agreement is similar to our 2012 agreement with our Oklahoma utility, the Grand River Dam Authority. In this case, MidAmerican Energy will sell energy to our Iowa data center bundled with and tracked by renewable energy certificates generated by projects that are part of its Wind VIII program.

PPAs and agreements like this one are a big part of the commitment to carbon neutrality we made back in 2007, and we’re working to make this whole process easier for other companies by advocating for renewable energy tariffs. Depending on the circumstances, any of these approaches can make sense, and we’re always on the hunt for new and creative ways to power our operations with renewable energy. But it’s not just our own operations we want to green: Google has also invested over $1B in 15 renewable energy investments around the world in an effort to put more renewable energy on the grid and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

We’ll continue working with MidAmerican Energy and all of our utility partners to find diverse ways to deliver clean, renewable energy to our data centers. Happy Earth Day!

Posted by Neha Palmer and Sam Arons, Wind Ninjas

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(Cross-posted from the Google Europe Blog)

We’re keen to make sure that our data centres around the world use as much renewable energy as possible. By entering into long-term agreements with wind farm developers over the past few years, we’ve been able to increase the amount of renewable energy we consume while helping enable the construction of new facilities.

Today we announced that we’ve signed a new power purchase agreement (PPA) in Sweden (our second such agreement there in less than 12 months). We will buy the entire electricity output of four as-yet-unbuilt wind farms in southern Sweden, at a fixed price, for the next ten years.

Windfarm developer Eolus Vind will build four wind farms, in Alered, Mungseröd, Skalleberg and Ramsnäs, Sweden. The 29-turbine project, with a total combined capacity of 59MW, already has all relevant planning approvals and permits and will become fully operational in early 2015.

Once completed, the wind farms will provide Google’s Hamina, Finland, data centre with additional renewable energy as the facility expands in coming years.

Buying renewable energy in Sweden and consuming it in Finland is possible thanks to Europe’s increasingly integrated power markets, in particular the Nord Pool spot market. This allows Google to buy renewable energy with Guarantee of Origin certification in Sweden, “retire” the certificates and then consume an equivalent amount of power elsewhere in Europe.



This marks our sixth long-term agreement to purchase renewable energy. We keep signing these contracts for two main reasons: they make great financial sense for us, and increase the amount of renewable energy available in the grid, which is great for the environment too.

Posted:
(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

It sure is windy in Texas. So windy, in fact, that we’ve made another wind energy investment there. In late December we finalized an agreement to invest $75 million in the Panhandle 2 wind farm in Carson County, outside of Amarillo. The 182MW facility, developed by leading wind developer Pattern Energy Group LP, has the capacity to generate enough renewable energy to power 56,000 U.S. homes. We expect the facility to be operational by the end of 2014.

The future sight of Pattern's Panhandle 2 wind farm
Panhandle 2 is our 15th renewable energy investment overall, and our second in Texas—last year around this time we announced an approximately $200 million investment in the Spinning Spur wind farm. In addition to these two projects, we’re also buying Texas wind from the Happy Hereford wind farm as part of our goal of operating on 100 percent renewable energy. These efforts reflect our long-standing commitment to renewable energy as both an investor and a consumer.

Sunset at another Pattern facility, Gulf Wind

Let that Texas wind blow!