More collaboration is needed to advance clean energy technologies and drive sustainable load growth on the U.S. grid amid increasing demand, according to an executive from Google LLC.

Speaking briefly this week at an energy conference in New York, Amanda Peterson Corio—the global head of data center energy for Google—said the world’s energy transition efforts have reached inflection. In the U.S., years of stagnant growth in electricity demand is forecast to turn to record highs in 2024 and 2025.

Amanda Peterson Corio
Amanda Peterson Corio, global head of data center for Google, speaking at the
NY BNEF Summit 2024. (Source: Hart Energy)

“Data centers are increasingly talked about within this new landscape, but really they’re just one part of a broader trend to reindustrialization and electrification,” Corio said, noting data centers’ electricity use remains relatively flat at about 1% of global electricity use. “And that’s even as we continue to see more compute come out of these data centers.

“The truth is that electricity demand is rising as grids are having to adapt to this wave of economic-driven demand that looks to meet our global decarbonization goals through electrification of our heating, our industrialization, our manufacturing, all of this, in addition to digitalization.”

The drive comes as the world works to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, including by increasing renewable energy’s share in the electricity production mix. Technology companies such as Google and other tech behemoths—Amazon, Meta and Microsoft—have consistently led the U.S. in buying clean energy to power their operations.

Meeting the demand is challenging, particularly with an electricity system with underinvested transmission infrastructure as well as physical and digital technology still in need of advancement, Corio said.

“We also have more work to do to advocate our markets to incentivize delivering capacity from clean firm technology,” she said.

She added that Google aims to meet the challenge through ambition, innovation and collaboration. The company, which wants to operate its data centers and office campuses on carbon-free energy by 2030, teamed up with LevelTen Energy in 2023 to come up with a way to significantly reduce the time it takes to negotiate and execute clean energy power purchase agreements.

“Fast forward to today, we have signed over a gigawatt and a half of agreements in North America and Europe using this new process, and what’s really remarkable is that we did this in as little as 82 days between [request for proposal] and contract execution,” Corio said. “That’s 80% faster than the industry standard of how long it takes to execute these contracts. Not only that, this is available to any buyer or seller that wants to participate in North America and Europe, and we're hoping it gets adopted as an industry standard.”

Google also partnered with geothermal startup Fervo Energy to power the tech company’s Cloud region in Las Vegas, Nevada. The delivery of carbon-free electricity in 2023 marked a first for Fervo’s enhanced geothermal system, which uses proven oil and gas drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to capture heat from hot rock to create electricity.

Google, along with Microsoft Corp. and Nucor Corp., announced in March they will work together to develop new business models and aggregate their demand to help advanced clean electricity technologies scale quicker.

“But we need to do more to collaborate,” Corio said.

“Collaboration will also need to come from across the ecosystem, from different stakeholders to enable these new technologies to be integrated into our grids,” she added.

Google has also taken steps to improve its own operations, including running its data centers more efficiently during periods of high electricity demand.

“We do that by moving non-urgent compute tasks to different times or even different data center locations,” Corio said.

Demand growth

The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts power consumption will jump to 4,096 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) this year, up from 4 billion kWh in 2023. Power demand could reach 4,125 billion kWh in 2025.

“We expect electricity consumption to grow in all major consuming sectors this year, with forecast growth especially strong in the residential sector, where we expect it to increase by 4%,” the EIA said in its Short-Term Energy Outlook (April 2024). “Much of the forecast year-over-year growth in residential electricity occurs this summer.”

For non-residential electricity consumption, the EIA reported areas with new large computing customers, such as data centers, have the fastest forecast growth. “We expect the West South Central and West North Central Census Divisions together will contribute 50% of total U.S. non-residential electricity sales growth in 2024 and almost 90% of growth in 2025.”