Head of Energy Strategy
Leading the Way in Renewable Energy for Tech
It seems today that everyone knows of Google, but did you know that the tech giant was one of the first major corporations to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage? In 2017, Google reached this goal, due in part to Neha Palmer’s contributions. Palmer, who holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, has served as the Head of Energy Strategy at Google since 2012.
“The year I joined the company we set the goal to be 100 percent renewable, meaning that for every kilowatt hour of electricity consumed as a company we will buy an equivalent kilowatt hour of physical renewable energy,” explains Palmer. “In 2017, for the first time, we were able to confirm that we did make that 100 percent renewable match for every kilowatt hour consumed at Alphabet, so that was really exciting.”
Palmer has nearly 20 years of experience in the energy industry including utilities. She currently leads a team that procures energy and electric infrastructure for Google's data centers across the globe. Since joining Google, Palmer has led that team that has signed over 30 new contracts for a total of 3.4 gigawatt hours of renewable capacity, dramatically advancing work that began before she joined the team.
“The best way to sum it up is that we are the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world,” says Palmer. “Other tech companies are active in the market, but I think we’ve really pushed forward with the rapid acceleration [of renewables] and played a key role in driving change in the industry.”
When Palmer first began working on this project, she recalls that there was a lot of suspicion around corporations wanting to become fully renewable at this large of a scale. The main buyers of large scale renewable energy were utilities, which were being driven by state mandates, portfolio standards, or carbon mandates. As Google set out to reach their renewable goal, other companies took notice and followed along. Now, over two-thirds of the fortune 100 companies have commitments to greenhouse gas reduction or renewable energy goals.
“It’s really great to see that large corporations using renewables is now a thing and that it’s not only tech companies. I’d like to think it’s a little bit of the result of the movement that Google started, and I can’t wait to see how far it will grow in the future.” — Neha Palmer (KSM '07), Head of Energy Strategy at Google
“What’s been really interesting for me to see are not only the commitments out there, but how the market has responded,” says Palmer. “It’s not renewables for renewables sake, the end goal is really carbon mitigation.”
Achieving this goal is one of the highlights of Palmer’s time at Google, but according to her, the most exciting part is seeing how far the industry has come in listening to consumers and providing ways for them to engage with renewable energy.
Palmer holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, in addition to her graduate degree in business from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University—a program that she says highly influenced her career path. “What Northwestern really brought to me was that foundation of finance, marketing and strategy—all things I leverage all the time now in my role here at Google,” explains Palmer. “I think understanding how the financial part of the energy system works is really important for renewables in particular.”
As one of the world’s largest tech companies, Google has set a precedent in renewable energy use and sustainability that is being mimicked by other industry leaders across the globe.
“It’s really great to see that large corporations using renewables is now a thing and that it’s not only tech companies,” says Palmer. “I’d like to think it’s a little bit of the result of the movement that Google started, and I can’t wait to see how far it will grow in the future.”
* Editor's Note, March 2021: Neha Palmer is now CEO at TeraWatt Infrastructure.