Microsoft took a big step toward transforming the energy supply chain with its biggest power purchase agreement to date with the Pilot Hill Wind project near Chicago, Illinois, a 175 megawatt wind farm.
Microsoft is among a handful of major tech companies spending large on renewable energy, much of it to balance out the coal energy used by their data centers. Microsoft began bulk purchases of wind energy last November, signing a 20-year PPA in Texas, its first “utility scale” move.
The latest deal is even bigger. “The Pilot Hill Wind Project is our largest wind investment to date,” wrote Robert Bernard, the company's chief environmental strategist. Pilot Hill is nearly 60 percent larger than Keechi (the Texas wind farm), at 175 megawatts versus Keechi’s 110 megawatts. The agreement with EDF Renewable energy means Microsoft will purchase up to 675,000 megawatt-hours of renewable energy from Pilot Hill every year. This is enough to power 70,000 homes.
Pilot Hill will supply clean energy to the Illinois power grid, which powers the company's Chicago data center. The plant is 60 miles from the Windy City.
Construction has already started, and Pilot Hill is slated to come online in 2015.
One of many environmental initiatives
Last fall, the company began a new proof of concept that involved using fuel cells within the rack, with a successful demonstration this year. “Over the past fiscal year, we have purchased more than 3 billion kilowatt-hours of green power, equivalent to 100 percent of our global electricity use,” wrote Bernard.
Greenpeace, which has been pushing large data center operators like Microsoft to clean up the energy mix they use to power their operations, welcomed the announcement. In a statement, the environmental activist organization's senior energy campaigner David Pomerantz said, “Microsoft’s wind energy purchase shows that it intends to compete in the race among cloud computing companies to power their operations with renewable energy.”
Another company on Greenpeace watch is Apple, which announced earlier this month that it was building its third solar farm that will pump energy to power its Maiden, North Carolina, data center. Apple also received kudos from Greenpeace.
Another public shot at AWS
One of the worst offenders on Greenpeace's dirty cloud list is Amazon -- primarily because the company does not share much information about its operations publicly -- and Pomerantz used the Microsoft announcement to call Amazon out one more time" “Microsoft‘s large purchases of wind energy in Illinois and Texas, taken alongside the commitments by cloud competitors Rackspace and Google to power their respective operations with 100 percent renewable energy, highlight the failure by Amazon Web Services to reach even the starting line in the race to build a clean cloud and green internet.
"As other companies move to embrace solar and wind, AWS risks losing business from customers that are beginning to expect their cloud to be powered by renewable energy.”