The push to repeal climate regulations by the White House will have no effect on the renewable energy agenda of Digital Realty Trust, according to the data center provider’s director of sustainability.
Digital Realty is second of the world’s two largest data center providers to have vowed to continue looking for ways to source renewable energy to power their global footprint after President Donald Trump signed an executive order that seeks to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations. Equinix, the other data center giant, sent us a statement earlier saying it would stick to its renewable energy goals too.
“My mandate hasn’t changed in terms of the priorities that I’ve got, and we’re still hearing from customers that they want renewable energy, so we’re still moving ahead,” Aaron Binkley, sustainability head at San Francisco-based Digital Realty, said in an interview with Data Center Knowledge.
Demand for data center services powered by renewable energy from the likes of Equinix and Digital has been on the rise, as corporations like Adobe, Bank of America, Oracle, Facebook, and Salesforce execute their own sustainability programs. The renewable energy price drop in recent years has made it easier to provide such services.
Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft – companies that operate the largest clouds in the world – issued a joint statement two days after Trump signed the order, reiterating their belief that climate change is “one of our most significant global challenges, and strong action is critical to meeting the serious threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions.”
These companies have invested billions collectively in renewable energy generation to offset energy consumption of their own data centers. But in addition to those facilities, their clouds are also hosted in data centers operated by service providers like Digital Realty and Equinix. Without those providers onboard, they can never reach their goals of powering their clouds with 100 percent renewable energy.
Digital projects that the cost of renewables will remain low at least over the next several years, Binkley said. “What we see today is attractive.”
The expected repeal of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, a new set of emission standards for existing power plants, isn’t likely to cause any significant market changes since it hasn’t yet come into effect, he said. “We still see a lot of opportunities in the market.”
Digital’s long-term goal is to make 100 percent renewable energy available to all its customers around the globe. The first step was its Clean Start program, through which the provider buys renewable energy credits and passes them on to customers.
But Binkley’s team is working to move the program beyond buying credits, since they’re untethered from actual generation and in most cases do nothing to clean up power supply of the data centers. The more difficult but more effective option is to sign long-term, utility-scale power purchase agreements with wind and solar farm developers, which gives them the financing necessary to bring new generation online on the utility grids that power a company's data centers.
Digital signed its first major renewable power purchase agreement last year, agreeing to buy about 400,000 megawatt-hours per year from a wind farm operator in Texas. The company said the deal would offset all energy consumption by its retail colocation data centers, most of which are facilities it gained in the Telx acquisition.
But while there are Telx data centers in Texas, there are also Telx data centers in Chicago, Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, and other locations. The next step would be to source renewable energy closer to where the company actually consumes it, and Binkley said to expect Digital Realty to make such deals in the future.