Data Center Operators Turn to Wind Energy

17 Jul 2014 by Technology

Since statistics surfaced a few years ago illustrating the surprisingly vast amount of energy data centers utilize, there has been an increased focus on making computing facilities more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Forbes noted that research from Stanford University released in 2010 found that data centers accounted for 1.3 percent of the total energy consumed around the globe that year. Furthermore, these facilities utilized 2 percent of all the electricity consumed in the U.S. The study also underscored the fact that data centers were only poised to use more energy in coming years as part of a recent trend.

As these and other findings connected to the amount of electricity data centers consume on a regular basis became more public, a number of companies stepped up, investing more in renewable energy sources.

“The Facebooks, the Apples, the Googles are the most efficient of all the data centers, and they’re the ones getting all of the attention,” noted Jon Koomey, a research fellow at the Stanford University Steyer-Taylor Center. “These are customer-facing companies, and the customers care about this issue. These companies also have very high margins. Data centers are highly profitable. That means that they’re willing to pay a little bit extra [to get green energy].”

In this spirit, a trend toward wind energy has emerged in the data center sector, and companies both in and out of the U.S. are taking notice and participating.

Microsoft‘s Chicago Data Center to be Wind Powered

One of the most recent wind power developments comes in connection with a purchase by Microsoft, which announced plans to buy 175 megawatts of wind energy from the Pilot Wind Project. According to ZDNet, this is part of 20-year deal to bring clean power to its Chicago data center.

This isn’t Microsoft’s first venture into wind energy, however. Last year, the company bought 110 megawatts of power from the Keechi Wind Farm in Texas. ZDNet noted that such an arrangement is mutually beneficial for Microsoft, Pilot and Keechi. The computing giant gets to take advantage of a reduced carbon footprint and improved operating efficiency, while the wind provider gets a steady revenue stream.

Google Powers Iowa Data Center With Wind

Another firm leveraging the wind for clean power is Google, which announced in April that it planned to purchase 407 megawatts of wind energy for its Iowa data center. PC Magazine reported that the deal was signed with MidAmerican Energy, and not only includes Google’s existing facilities, but future expansions as well.

This is just the most recent purchase in a long line of deals for sustainable power for the search engine giant. All told, Google currently has a more than 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy contracted, PC Magazine stated.

“This is our seventh and largest renewable energy commitment to date,” said Neha Palmer, head of energy strategy and development at Google, at the time of the deal. “We’ve entered into a few different kinds of agreements over the years, sometimes signing power purchase agreements with wind farm developers and sometimes working with our local utility partners.”

Palmer also noted that overall, the company has invested more than $1 billion in 15 sustainable electricity deals around the globe.

Facebook Chooses Iowa For Data Center Site Due To Wind Energy

Facebook is another group working to reduce the impact its data centers have on the environment. In fact, its push toward renewable energy sources played a major factor in the decision to build its data center in Altoona, Iowa, last year, according the World-Herald Bureau.

Although the social media giant was considering Nebraska as a potential data center site, the company settled on Iowa due to the fact that the state had more sustainable power sources. As of April 2013, Iowa was in the third spot for the amount of wind energy generated there; Nebraska came in at number 26.

“There [are] dozens of factors that go into deciding where and what type of location would be right for us,” said Jay Parikh, vice president of infrastructure engineering at Facebook. “Usually you come down to a couple of really good choices and … we decided to come here.”

Debi Durham, Iowa Economic Development Authority director, noted that while wind power wasn’t the only reason Facebook chose the state for its $300 million data center project, it “surely made some difference.”

Wind Power Popular Outside the U.S.

While utilizing wind energy has been an increasing trend in the U.S., it is taking hold elsewhere across the globe as well. Ecological Hosting, for example, currently operates a wind powered data center in the United Kingdom, which it touts has “the U.K’s first ever (and currently only) purpose-built, low energy, high performance data center.” According to the company’s website, the facility boasts a zero carbon energy consumption rate.

As the focus increasingly shifts toward more sustainable sources, wind power and other renewable energy will likely been utilized more often in the data center sector.

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