Google Converts Dirty Old Coal Plant Into High-Tech Data Center

Google is coming back to the United States to build its next data center and the company has its sights on a coal plant in Alabama for the location. The data center (which is Google’s 14th, globally, in case you’re counting) will transform the aging Willow Creek power plant into a glistening installation that relies heavily (and eventually, completely) on renewable energy. Construction will begin early in 2016. The plant is expected to bring at least 100 new jobs to the area.

Google data center willow creek
Image credit: Google

As poetic as it might seem to put an environmentally-friendly data center on the site of a coal-burning power plant, it was the infrastructure that interested Google. “At Windows Creek, we can use the plants’ many electric transmission lines to bring in lots of renewable energy to power our new data center,” said Patrick Gammons, senior manager, Data Center Energy and Location Strategy, in a blog post. “Thanks to an arrangement with Tennessee Valley Authority, our electric utility, we’ll be able to scout new renewable energy projects and work with TVA to bring the power onto their electrical grid. Ultimately, this contributes to our goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy.”

The Willow Creek power plant isn’t the first industrial site to be repurposed by Google. In 2009, the company turned an old paper mill in Finland into a data center that uses sea water from the Bay of Finland to provide cooling. The new data center in Alabama will benefit from the experience Google has gained while building plants in Europe and Asia. According to Google, the past five years have seen it produce 3.5 times more computer power from the same level of energy.

Google data center
Image credit: Google

For the past eight years, Google built new data centers in Asia and Europe while expanding existing U.S. campuses dramatically. A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa recently received word that it is being expanded soon, bringing the total investment in that plant (by 2019) to more than $2.5 billion.