Consuming between three and five percent of the world’s power, it’s no surprise that the data center sector has a carbon footprint that rivals the airline industry. And it shows no sign of slowing down.
By 2020, the power consumption for operating and cooling data centers is tipped to reach a staggering 73 billion kWh. For this reason, the data center industry has been feeling the heat over the last decade, leading to operators becoming more proactive in minimizing the environmental impact of their facilities.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced the Renewable Energy Production Incentive program back in 1992, which was designed to provide financial incentives for power generated using solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and oceanic resources.
In 2014, the EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan, designed to combat global warming and reduce CO2 emissions from electrical power generation by 32% before 2030.
The EPA’s policies encouraged widespread adoption of sustainable energy practices across many industries, including the data center sector. However the Clean Power Plan has drawn opposition from coal-friendly industries and states, and in 2017 the Trump administration revealed its intent to terminate the plan and roll back policies that provide tax credits for wind and solar power.
Nevertheless, the Clean Power Plan still has considerable support within the technology sector. Data center operators such as Equinix, Digital Realty, Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft have voiced strong commitment to renewable energy investment, despite the EPA, and not because of it.
Last year, the world’s largest corporate renewable energy buyer, Google, achieved its target of 100% renewable energy usage. A huge milestone that drives the company to continue making its data centers more energy efficient, reducing its carbon footprint and tackling climate change. Google is concurrently running 20 separate renewable energy projects, broadening its purchases to include a range of alternative energy sources, and driving global renewable infrastructure investment of over $3.5 billion.
Furthermore, global colocation provider, Digital Realty, is expanding its green energy initiatives, announcing long-term agreements to source an additional 324,000 MWh per annum of solar and wind power for its Chicago and Ashburn data centers – equivalent to the annual energy needs of 55,000 US homes.
According to Digital Realty CEO, A. William Stein, the agreements strengthen the company’s ability to meet rising energy demands, while minimizing its environmental impact and avoiding 515,000 metric tons of CO2 each year.
Meanwhile across the Pacific, a conglomerate of Australian organizations, including leading data center operator NEXTDC, are supporting the development of an 80MW, 39-turbine wind farm near Ararat, Victoria.
According to Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor, Arron Wood, the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project has united corporations, councils and universities to source energy from a new Pacific Hydro facility. The project is an Australian-first, creating 140 jobs and demonstrating that large organizations can combine their funds to facilitate the development of clean energy plants. With only 17% of Victoria’s power currently derived from renewable energy, there is considerable scope for growth in the sector.
Also in Australia, the region’s leading telco, Telstra has announced an agreement for the ongoing energy supply from the new 429MW Murra Murra wind farm in Horsham. The facility, which will launch in 2019, will generate more power than any other wind farm in the southern hemisphere. It is expected to reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 900,000 tons, and be capable of powering almost a quarter of a million homes.
Under the agreement, Telstra will deliver energy market services to Coca-Cola, ANZ and the University of Melbourne. Telstra has also entered into a power purchase agreement with RES Australia’s new 70-megawatt, AU$100 million solar farm in Queensland.
Renewables are an important strategy to implement in the data center sector, from both a business and environmental perspective. Clean energy prices are less volatile than carbon-based sources, offering more predictable, and in many cases lower costs compared to coal and oil-based alternatives. Early concerns about the intermittent nature of clean power are also being reassessed, as renewable integration and improved battery technology enables grid operators to more reliably manage the steady supply of green electricity.
In fact, the international environmental organization, Greenpeace, concluded in a recent report, Clicking Clean: Who is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet?, that the technology sector is driving renewable energy adoption across a broad range of industries.
From Google to Telstra, Equinix, Digital Realty and NEXTDC, the data center sector will continue to drive renewable energy adoption worldwide.
Interested in more on this topic? Read The Greenest of Them All: The EPA Releases Index of Top 30 Green Energy Telcos and Tech Companies or Does ‘Going Green’ Really Matter to the Modern Data Center?