Microsoft has begun purchasing renewable energy to support its data center infrastructure, signing a 20-year power purchase agreement for wind energy in Texas that will be funding in part by proceed from Microsoft’s carbon fee.
This is Microsoft’s first "utility scale" purchase of renewable energy, a practice that has been used by Google to offset the carbon footprint of its data centers.
“We’ve purchased renewable energy credits, but this is the first time we’ve entered into long term purchase agreement,” said Microsoft Utility Architect Brian Janous.
The project of two 55 megawatt wind farms totaling 110 megawatts of wind power, located 70 miles west of Fort Worth, Texas. At peak power, it’s enough for 55,000 homes.
Last year, the EPA recognized Microsoft for purchasing 1.9 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy credits, making it the second largest purchaser overall.
Funded by Internal Carbon Fee
The carbon fee is the cornerstone of Microsoft's commitment to renewable energy and becoming carbon neutral. The company instituted an internal carbon fee that’s designed to increase the company’s costs for using carbon-based forms of energy, to help curb the usage and move the company towards greener pastures.
By placing a dollar value on a metric ton of carbon, Microsoft is building environmental sustainability into its long term business planning and creating a blueprint for more renewable energy purchases going forward.
“We’re doing everything we can to lower energy cost, using outside air and reducing the amount of electricity we use per workload, but our demand is still going up,” Janous says, adding that data center energy efficiency is just one part of a larger puzzle.
"When we look at the way energy is consumed, it’s small part of it," he said. "A tremendous amount of energy is lost before that electron gets to my meter. The efficiency of power from the electric grid is in the mid 30s. There’s room for improvement for the server design as well. The best way is to secure renewable energy.”
Greening The Grid
This deal will not power Microsoft datacenters directly. Indirectly, the company's San Antonio data center draws power from the Texas power grid, and once operational the wind farm will contribute wind-generated electricity to this same grid, reducing the overall amount of emissions associated with operating these facilities.
“This is a first step among many on this journey to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Janous. The company, in addition to looking to renewable energy, is vigorously trying to lower the amount of electricity per compute, and lowering overall energy consumption of the cloud.