Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, meaning that it uses carbon offsetting – the investment in renewable energy initiatives or other carbon-capture technologies – to “balance out” the adverse environmental impact it makes by burning fossil fuels.
As The Verge notes, “relying on offsets doesn’t actually wean the company off fossil fuels.” Pichai’s statement suggests that the new pledge will mean that “email you send through Gmail, every question you ask Google Search, every YouTube video you watch, and every route you take using Google Maps, is supplied by clean energy every hour of every day.”
There are a sizeable technological barriers in the way of Google realising its 2030 pledge. Batteries for storing renewable energy need to be made more efficient; the company needs better forecasting models to anticipate electricity demand in its operations; and the US’ ageing grid needs to be adapted to accommodate renewables more efficiently. It also relies on the energy realities of each place it operates in.
Google’s pledge follows mass protests last year, in which more than 2,000 of its employees – alongside Microsoft and Amazon workers – demanded that Google commit to zero carbon emissions by 2030. Google is the first tech company to make the pledge, but none of the companies concerned have given in to the additional demand made by protesters: that the companies “end contracts with fossil fuel companies and stop funding politicians and lobbyists that deny climate science.”