A few years ago the Greenpeace Report Card, on meeting renewable energy generation goals, showed Amazon trailing far behind other tech companies. The big giants like Facebook, Apple and Google had been investing heavily in clean energy to power their data centers and it seemed that Amazon wasn’t even out of the starting gates. There had been little transparency on their sustainability efforts and it seemed that they were now under pressure to join the race.
Shortly after the bad showing, Amazon Web Services (AWS) posted the following message prominently on their homepage:
In addition to the environmental benefits inherently associated with running applications in the cloud, AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint.
AWS might have been slow to start but has had the opportunity to learn from early clean power initiatives by Google and Apple.
Amazon then kicked into high gear with the announcement of the construction of wind and solar farms in Ohio, Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina. These farms will deliver more than 1.6 million MWh of renewable energy into the electric grids that supply AWS Cloud data centers. Amazon Solar Farm US East, Amazon Wind Farm US Central, Amazon Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) and Amazon Wind Farm US East will produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 150,000 U.S. homes!
Already AWS sports carbon-neutral regions for their customers -US West (Oregon), AWS GovCloud (US) and EU (Frankfurt).
First up is a project that sees the building of an 80-megawatt solar farm in Virginia. It has been touted as the largest solar project in the state so far. AWS in partnership with Community Energy will build the Amazon Solar Farm –US EAST. They are hoping to clean up the environmental impact of AWS coal-powered data centers in the past with this new project. From October 2016 this new Accomack County solar farm will feed clean energy to the data centers delivering 170,000 megawatt-hours of electricity.
AWS’s solar splurge was followed by the announcement of their 150-megawatt wind farm. The Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) will be built in Benton County, Indiana and generate the equivalent clean energy used by about 46,000 US homes. This initiative was done in collaboration with Pattern Development.
“Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) will bring a new source of clean energy to the electric grid where we currently operate a large number of data centers and have ongoing expansion plans to support our growing customer base,” said Jerry Hunter, Vice President of Infrastructure at Amazon Web Services
This wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties is operated by Iberdrola Renewables at Desert Wind. The utility-scale wind farm will be the first in Northern Carolina. The first phase features 104 wind turbines and when built out could add another 46, generating 300MW of power at full capacity. It will provide millions of dollars in tax for these counties.
Amazon is confident that by the end of this year, 40 percent of their energy needs would be met by renewable energy. They admit there is a long way to go but they are committed to staying on the path towards 100 percent renewable energy usage. Their online companies include The New York Times, Pinterest, Tumblr and the Huffington Post so they have their work cut out for them.
Jeff Bezo’s encouraged customers to check back regularly on their sustainability page to watch their progress as there are many additional developments in the pipeline.
Google followed suit announcing the largest ever renewable energy purchase. GOOG wants to increase the amount of green energy powering its data centers. This venture boasts 842 megawatts of renewable energy capacity. In North Carolina, Google also partnered with Duke Energy on a 61-megawatt solar project. Google endeavors include a wind farm in Sweden and solar plant in Chile. By 2025 they aim to be using 100 percent clean energy. They are well on their way by increasing their renewable energy capacity by 2 gigawatts. They liken it to taking a million cars off the road. Apple AAPL and Microsoft MSFT have made similar commitments.
In Monterey County, California, Apple teamed up with First Solar’s, California Flats Solar Project with a $848 million commitment. They claim it is the largest agreement providing clean energy to a commercial end user in the industry. The construction takes place over 1,170ha. Pacific Gas & Electric will buy the output balance of the 150MW of the project under a separate long-term PPA. Apple’s commitment will significantly increase solar power supply in California. Apple’s new campus in Silicon Valley, its offices and 52 stores in the state will make use of the power generated from this new solar farm.
This enormous improvement in energy efficiency results in reducing negative climate impact. If there is less energy consumed it means fewer carbon emissions. The pressure is on to use fewer servers and power them more efficiently. Cloud computing seems to be the best environmental solution to using the least amount of energy and the argument is gaining momentum.
The emerging trend is that these giant, intensive tech companies and data operators will continue to fund renewables development with more such projects focused on clean energy. Billionaires Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezo’s are investing in multibillion dollar clean energy projects looking to reach 100 percent on their report cards in the future.