U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
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Large Technology Companies Utilize Wind Energy to Reduce Environmental Footprint and Energy Costs

Large Technology Companies Utilize Wind Energy to Reduce Environmental Footprint and Energy Costs

Date: 12/16/2013

Last month, Microsoft and Facebook each announced additions of wind energy to their energy portfolios. The moves highlight the growing use of renewables by large technology companies in the United States as a low-cost, sustainable energy solution.

The Facebook commitment includes purchasing 100% of the power needed for its Altoona Data Center in Altoona, Iowa, through renewable energy certificates from a nearby 138-megawatt (MW) wind farm that will be constructed, owned, and operated by MidAmerican Energy. The project, which should be completed in 2014, was originally developed by Facebook and RPM Access, an Iowa wind project developer.

According to Facebook Data Center Energy Manager Vincent Van Son, the company is committed to controlling its environmental impact while reducing energy costs.

"We look across all our operations to find opportunities to minimize our environmental footprint through energy and resource efficiency and to reduce cost—and that includes considering all types of clean and renewable energy as well," Van Son said.

Van Son said that one of the factors that led to selecting Altoona for the data center site was the chance to take advantage of Iowa's rich wind resource.

"When we settled on Altoona as the location for our fourth data center, one of the deciding factors was the opportunity for us to help develop and bring about a new wind project in Iowa," Van Son said. "The abundance of wind in the state enables a wind turbine to generate roughly twice as much energy as solar PV for each megawatt of generation capacity installed," he said.

Van Son also noted the minimal impact that wind turbines have in terms of land use as to why the company chose both Iowa and wind.

"Wind turbines also minimize the disruption to existing farmland since they have a smaller physical footprint and are often located along fencerows," he said. "These attributes help make wind energy an ideal renewable energy solution for Iowa."

In Texas, Microsoft recently agreed to purchase all of the power produced by the 110-MW Keechi Wind project in Jack County.

Microsoft Corporation's Director of Energy Strategy Brian Janous said that energy plays a large role in the decision-making process for his company's data centers.

"Energy is a critical component of any cloud services business. Energy availability, cost, and emissions are significant factors in our decision criteria for siting data centers and continue to play an important role in the operation of these facilities," he said.

"As the market for cloud services continues to grow, our business will become increasingly more dependent on energy. Consequently, we are pursuing investments in both utility-scale and distributed solutions that will ensure that Microsoft has greater control over the supply of low-cost, sustainable energy solutions."

The Microsoft commitment is the company's first long-term renewable energy purchase, and according to Janous, the company views it as a way to minimize future energy expenditures.

"We don't just view wind as a way to hedge against future increases in energy costs, we look at it as a way to reduce expected energy costs in the future," he said. "Wind has become increasingly cost competitive and will be a critical component of the electricity grid mix going forward."

The potential expiration of the Production Tax Credit may create a barrier to the development of more projects like these, but Janous believes that other forms of support will play a role in future projects and that other challenges will surface.

"In the near term, it will certainly make a project like this more difficult to get done. But there are a number of other regulations that will support the development of renewables, such as the federal investment tax credit for solar, and a lot at the state level," Janous said.

Ian Baring Gould, NREL Wind and Water Technology Deployment Manager, thinks that projects like these will help shape the energy future for other companies dependent on large amounts of energy.

"It's important for consumers of large amounts of energy to look into alternative ways to reduce the impacts associated with the energy they use. With the potential for future increases in energy costs, wind provides a stable price for the long term. In the future, we will probably see more large technology companies incorporating wind energy," Baring-Gould said.

This information was last updated on December 16, 2013