Google forges ahead with plans for hourly renewable electricity tracking

Google has stated that it is working to "fully develop and widely deploy" a tool that will enable governments, businesses and energy system operators to track renewable electricity generation and consumption in real-time.

Google forges ahead with plans for hourly renewable electricity tracking

Image: Google Cloud

The tech giant launched the tool, called ‘Time-Based Energy Attribute Certificates’ (T-EACs), last March. The aim of the tool is to improve clean energy certification; most organisations using 100% renewable electricity do not use the electricity directly, but purchase Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGOs) to prove that a utility is generating the equivalent of clean energy as is consumed by the buyer.

REGOs – known as RECs in the US – are “an outdated approach for addressing an increasingly nuanced problem”, Google has stated. T-EACs, meanwhile, provide more granular data – often on an hour-by-hour basis.

“This information will help energy consumers better understand their energy use, while empowering governments and system operators to develop more rapid and cost-effective strategies for decarbonisation,” reads Google’s statement. It adds: “Perhaps most excitingly, it will also create price signals that stimulate new investments into technologies and projects that deliver carbon-free energy at the times when it’s most needed, accelerating decarbonisation across entire electricity grids.”

Google has today (15 March 2022) posted an update on T-EAC development, touting strong progress and the potential of “widespread adoption” in the near future.

It confirmed that trial projects are underway in the US, Denmark and Chile. In the US, Google is working with M-RETS, a non-profit specialising in energy certificates, and APX, an environmental technologies provider. These collaborations mean that electricity generators in the Central and Midwest US will soon be able to get data on an hourly basis and generate certificates just as rapidly. Similarly, this data and certificate option will be opened up to the Danish national grid operator Energinet.

Google’s work on T-EACs in Chile, meanwhile, has focussed on matching its data centre’s energy demands with clean energy that has been certified hour-by-hour. Google has used 100% renewable electricity for powering operations since 2017, but this has been down to REGOs and RECs as well as self-generation, rather than real-time 24/7 generation externally. The firm is aiming to match all operational electricity consumption with 24-7 clean generation by 2030.

Another data-centre-centric project is being spearheaded by Google and software provider FlexiDAO. It was set up to simplify the aggregation process for energy data across Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland, thus streamlining the processes through which Google is matching energy demand with clean energy generation.

Standardised tracking

Google believes that, given the increase in corporate support for net-zero and the fact that nations including the US and the EU’s member states, the use of T-EACs could soon become widespread.

The benefits of this, beyond verifying green claims, are touted as increasing investment in “high-impact” clean energy projects and in emerging related sectors like green hydrogen. Governments could also use the data to incentivise businesses and homeowners to purchase clean energy.

Nonetheless, Google has stated that “there is a danger that numerous sets of tools, definitions, and technical specifications will proliferate simultaneously, resulting in a fragmented ecosystem and a lack of interoperability”. It is not the only business working on hourly energy data and certificates.

Google has, therefore, provided a €530,000 (£445,500) grant to EnergyTag, which is developing a new international standard for T-EACs. It has also secured a seat on EnergyTag’s advisory board. EnergyTag should be releasing official guidelines for the standard in the next few months.

Separately, Google has joined the Linux Foundation’s LF Energy project as a strategic member. The project is building a global, open-source database on energy generation and consumption. Google’s involvement is within the project’s workstream on the development of hourly energy data collection and verification.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie