P1.2: Facilities and Buildings
Sourcing Renewable Energy for Data Centers
In addition to traditional buildings, data centers, the facilities that house large volumes of Internet infrastructure, are significant users of energy. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, data centers use 10 to 20 times more energy per square foot than a typical commercial building.1 Despite an increasing focus on data center energy efficiency, the growth of data center energy use is fast and it now accounts for roughly 2 percent of the nation's annual electricity consumption.2 The transition to cloud computing, where a company’s data is managed as an overall service versus relying on private in-house data centers, is touted as a critical solution for saving energy and emissions. However, the degree of impact depends on the type of energy used to power the data center and how efficiently it is designed and managed. Given the vast amount of information being accessed and created on a daily basis – for example, there are one billion Google searches3 and 200 million tweets per day4 — energy use and GHG emissions are likely to increase.
In early 2013, Apple announced that it is now sourcing 100% renewable energy for its data centers. The company is employing a diverse strategy for procuring its renewable energy, which includes customizing the energy source mix dependent upon each of the facilities’ locations. Apple is achieving this goal through a combination of onsite renewable energy production and direct procurement through local utilities.
But what do you do when sourcing renewable energy locally isn’t an option? When Ceres Network Company eBay, the world’s largest online marketplace, built its first-ever data center in South Jordan, Utah, it wanted to not only design and build the site to LEED Gold standards, but also use clean energy to power much of the sprawling facility. This wasn’t simply part of eBay’s company-wide commitment to sustainable operations, it was a bottom-line business decision: sourcing renewable energy would stabilize and reduce long-term energy costs and minimize environmental impacts in a state that gets 94 percent of its electricity from coal.
But there was a problem: Utah law didn’t allow non-utility energy consumers to buy and transmit power directly from renewable energy developers.
Leveraging its influence and resources, eBay partnered with a coalition of stakeholders, including other data center operators, to win passage of legislation allowing renewable energy purchases from third-party providers. The new law went into effect in the summer of 2012. eBay is a prime example of a company aligning its sustainability objectives with its public policies. The company is now able to significantly cut its absolute emissions, while also hedging against potential price increases for fossil fuel-based power.
For more examples on sustainability in Operations, click here.