Tech Companies Embrace Renewables for Data Centers

Jan. 20, 2017

How Microsoft and Google plan to reach 100% renewable energy.

As the size and complexity of data centers continue to grow, energy consumption grows right along with it. In response, tech companies like Google and Microsoft are implementing wide-scale renewable energy installations to ensure a reliable energy supply that doesn’t overtax the grid.

Google is on track to reach 100% renewable energy for all of its global operations this year, including offices and data centers. The company is purchasing 2.6 GW of wind and solar energy from 20 renewable energy projects, enough to account for all of the electricity its operations consume. Google also plans to branch out with additional renewable energy sources this year.

“Electricity costs are one of the largest components of operating expenses at our data centers,” says Urs Holzle, Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure for Google. “Having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy.”

Microsoft derives roughly 44% of its electricity consumption from a mix of wind, solar and hydropower and aims to achieve 50% by 2018 and 60% by the early 2020s. It recently announced a 237 MW data center in Cheyenne, WY, that will be powered entirely by wind energy. The wind installation also allowed the local utility, Black Hills Energy, to avoid increasing rates for taxpayers to account for the additional load.

“Traditionally, when presented with a constraint on the system relating to reliability, load growth or intermittent generation, a utility had one option – building new infrastructure,” says Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft. “Microsoft approached Black Hills Energy with a new solution to deliver reliability without additional costs for ratepayers. A new tariff available to all eligible customers lets the utility use the data center’s backup generators as a secondary resource for the entire grid. The natural gas turbines offer a more efficient solution than traditional diesel backup generators and ensure that the utility avoids building a new power plant.”

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