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Google and partners unveil world's largest solar power plant

Every time you make a simple Google search, a surprising amount of energy is used. Even a simple search term has to be sent through the broadband or Wi-Fi network, routed through an air-cooled server bank, processed in enormous data centres and fired back to your screen, all in a matter of milliseconds. All those data centres have to be cooled, maintained, and above all powered. Which makes Google one of the most energy hungry businesses in the world.

In its latest quarter, Google spent $2.25 billion (£1.3 billion) on data centre and infrastructure spending alone, taking a sizeable chunk out of its $16.86 billion (£10 billion) revenue. It's for this reason that the search giant has made one of the most sizeable Silicon Valley investments in green, renewable energy.

Over the last year, Google has made 15 wind and solar investments, totalling more than $1 billion (£597 million), and one of its prestige projects has just gone live in the desert below the northeast side of the New York Mountains overlooking the broad Ivanpah Valley in California.

"We've invested over a billion dollars in 15 projects that have the capacity to produce two gigawatts of power around the world, mostly in the US, but that's the equivalent of Hoover's Dam worth of power generation," said Rick Needham, Google's director of energy and sustainability, standing along Google's solar arrays at its headquarters in Mountain View, California.

With a capacity of 392 megawatts gross, enough to power approximately 140,000 houses, the Ivanpah solar power plant is the largest in the world, and hummed into action over the last few days. It deploys 173,500 heliostat mirrors spread over approximately 3,500 acres.

The plant works by focusing solar energy on boilers located atop three solar power towers, generating steam to turn a conventional steam turbine. The Ivanpah plant is predicted to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 400,000 tons annually.

Google worked with two energy companies, BrightSource Energy and NRG Energy, to realise the project, and invested $168 million (£100 million) over the last two years.

"The fact is that all of these things, procuring power for ourselves, investing in power plants, renewable power plants, they all make business sense, they make sense for us as a company to do. We rely on power for our business," Needham added.

As much as 34 per cent of Google's operations are powered by renewable power, according to Needham.

"That's through a combination of renewable resources that are in the utility areas that we operate, as well as the direct power procurements that we've done," he said.

"Our goal is to be 100 percent renewable powered. There's lots of challenges in getting there, not the least of which is operating in many jurisdictions that are in different parts of the world."

Image: Flickr (BrightSource Energy)