Google reveals electricity use, aims for a third clean power by 2012

In a new green-focused website, Google (s GOOG) has just revealed its total electricity use publicly for the first time and says it plans to have about a third of the electricity it consumes be sourced directly from clean power by 2012. Google hadn’t been willing to disclose its electricity consumption before, citing competitive reasons, and if you remember earlier this year Greenpeace gave Google an “F’ for transparency.

Google’s new transparency about its electricity consumption and carbon footprint is part of a new trend of data center operators sharing energy efficiency tools and methodologies. Facebook launched its Open Compute program earlier this year, revealing its energy-efficient server and data center designs. Google has also been willing to share its green data center best practices and has held annual summits on green data centers, but the electricity number took longer in coming. But as Rick Needham, Google’s green business operations manager, told me in an interview, opening up this type of data is proving to be a real benefit for the greater good of the industry.

Google says it consumed over 2 million MWh worth of electricity in 2010, or to put that in kilowatt-hours, 2 billion kWh. Researcher Jonathan Koomey uncovered a similar number last month, and reported that Google’s combined servers, storage, communications, and infrastructure had consumed 1.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2010. For comparison’s sake, an average American household in 2009 consumed 10,896 kWh of electricity, and the entire U.S. consumed close to 4,000 billion kWh worth of electricity in 2007.

Google says through a combination of buying clean power directly and the clean power sources of the utilities it buys power from, Google plans to source 35 percent of its electricity use from clean power by 2012. That’s up from 30 percent clean power in 2011, and 25 percent in 2010. Greenpeace estimated a similar figure in its report earlier this year — that Google had a clean power index of 36.4 percent. In addition to its growing clean power footprint, Google says the amount of clean power it has bought directly has jumped significantly over the past few years.

On top of Google’s clean power goals, the company has said it is carbon neutral since 2007, and it buys offsets to negate the remaining carbon emissions from the other 65 percent of the fossil fuel-based power it consumes. Buying offsets is essentially like providing funds for projects — like building a wind farm — that leads to a reduction of global carbon emissions. While these types of offsets are sometimes controversial, Google says it purchases offsets that are of the highest quality.

Google’s new green website and transparency is just the latest step for the company, and the Internet search giant has been leading the Internet industry toward cleaner power for the past few years. Google even emerged as one of the most aggressive clean power project investors in 2011, and as of June 2011, had invested over $780 million into clean power projects and technologies, with $700 million of that being invested this year.