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How the tech industry is greening its data centres

Jen A. Miller | Aug. 20, 2015
The desire to be masters of their own energy domains has helped fast-track a growing community of self-generating – and increasingly green – data center power consumers.

Directing self-growth directs company growth

While the NRDC applauds tech giants for making strides in turning data center energy gulping to a sip, they say there's still work to be done with small, medium and corporate data centers, which they say are responsible for most of the country's data energy consumption and are much less efficient operations.

Not only would turning these companies toward self-generation be better for the environment and their bottom line, but it can also help them be more attractive to potential employees. If they can create their own energy, they can locate their data centers – and employees – in places that aren't in the middle of nowhere, says Jean Redfield, president and CEO of NextEnergy, a Detroit-based non-profit working on innovations in advanced energy technologies, businesses and industries.

"Traditionally, data centers were call centers. You put them out in suburban and exurban areas," she says. That's where land needed for the center and cooling has been cheaper.

"When you start integrating renewable generation and DC power networks into your data center choices, you don't have to go to those exurban and suburban locations anymore. You can put them where you want them and where your talent really wants to be," says Redfield.

"The road blocks are the same as to any increased penetration of renewables, she says. "Where the grid is already reliable and there's plenty of baseload power generation, renewals are particularly slow to penetrate."

The challenge, she says, is to convince companies that they need renewables where there's already an energy infrastructure – even if that infrastructure is close to being maxed out.

“[It’s a] weird dilemma, [because] dense population centers may have the most fragile energy infrastructure, because it's pretty well utilized," Redfield says. "If you want to put large facilities in those dense urban centers, you want to figure out how [to] create local, robust energy infrastructure through renewables?"

The next push

Even big companies are feeling that inertia. Facebook recently announced that its new Fort Worth, Texas, data energy center will be powered entirely by wind power – but even the social networking juggernaut lamented that it had a hard time getting through the red tape necessary to be powered by renewables.

They're now one of 34 companies to subscribe to the Corporate Renewable Buyers' Principles, whose goal is to spur progress on resolving challenges in buying renewable energy. Yahoo, Salesforce, Unilever, Target, Sprint and 3M are also among the consortium of signatories of the compact.


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