FM Perspectives

Google’s Search for an Energy Leader and What You Should Learn from It

Editor’s note: FM Perspectives are industry op-eds. The views expressed are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of Facilities Management Advisor.

You can always tell the priorities of global tech firms by who they are trying to hire. Google’s next hire? A new role for a team leader dedicated to developing a plan and budget to address the growing energy and carbon footprint of AI and machine learning. (See the recent U.S. job listing here.)

As Google stands firm on its ambitious pledge to source renewable energy for its data centers and offices around the clock by 2030, what does this job post say about its plan to get there and what can we learn from it?

Google’s Ambitious Climate Goals

Google has one of the corporate world’s most ambitious climate targets, aiming to reach net zero by 2030 for all its operational and supply-chain emissions. It also tends to disclose fewer details about how it plans to reach that goal, relative to other technology firms. Its search for a carbon emissions team leader offers a peek behind the curtain.

Overall, Google is seeking someone to develop a holistic view of its carbon footprint trajectory and identify opportunities to contribute to Google’s greenhouse gas footprint and carbon reduction goals. A large driver for this need is the increase of data centers—from Google and others—to support AI and machine learning.

According to the International Energy Agency, the 2,700 data centers in the U.S. consumed more than 4% of the country’s total electricity in 2022. By 2026, they are projected to consume 6%. Google reportedly operates or is building 23 data centers across the U.S. Ironically, AI—coupled with innovative technologies like digital twins and drones—is a powerful tool that can pinpoint the precise inefficiencies in portfolios by creating holistic energy models.

Once the inefficiencies are found, the real work begins. For Google, this means pursuing renewable resource alternatives, building performance assessments, and other innovative means to combating the massive power strain on the grid. A long-term carbon reduction roadmap and budget will help Google achieve its goal of net zero emissions by 2030.

Why This Matters

Google is an innovator, consistently pushing the envelope and staying ahead of the curve. Others should take note of Google’s approach to combating energy inefficiencies and apply it to their own work, as it’s not just data centers and AI contributing to the problem.

For example, the commercial real estate industry is a huge contributor to the climate crisis. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, buildings are responsible for 40% of total energy use in the United States, including 75% of all electricity use and 35% of the nation’s carbon emissions. The older the building, the more energy it consumes per square foot. These emissions are contributing to the blanket of greenhouse gases enveloping the Earth, ultimately warming the planet and creating climate change.

Commercial building owners are also faced with mounting regulatory pressures from federal and global entities to reduce their carbon footprints. While federal tax incentives like the Inflation Reduction Act are helping to move the needle, local governments are also cracking down. Look at New York’s Local Law 97 for example, which will penalize owners of buildings that emit too much greenhouse gas.

While a Google-level investment may not be feasible for all commercial building owners, there are several things facilities managers and owners can—and should—do to reduce their carbon footprints. Simple changes such as switching to LED lights, evaluating their HVAC efficiency, and restoring the building envelope to reduce energy leakage can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual net operating savings, lessen the impact on the energy grid, and reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.

Data centers and AI are a huge contributing factor, but at the end of the day, it’s everyone’s problem. As the race to reach net zero by 2030 gets shorter, commercial building owners and managers need to act now before our energy systems are brought to the brink.

Ramtin Motahar is the founder and CEO of Joulea, a building energy assessment platform dedicated to reducing emissions and energy costs for commercial owners and operators. Motahar holds bachelor’s degrees in economics and industrial engineering and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech.

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