Equinix is installing Bloom Energy biogas fuel cells at its Silicon Valley data center. The initial deployment will be a 1 megawatt biogas fuel cell in support of its SV5 facility. Expected to reduce CO2 emissions to near zero, the fuel cell will provide an estimated 8.3 million kilowatt-hours per year of clean, reliable electricity to power a portion of the SV5 data center.
Equinix has taken a key step towards its goal of 100 percent clean and renewable energy across its data centers. Currently, Equinix gets approximately 30 percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources, using a variety of mechanisms including fuel cells, solar, power purchase agreements, utility programs, renewable energy credits and carbon offsets.
The fuel cells use biogas rather than natural gas – natural gas is a clean option but still a fossil fuel. The project also includes uninterruptible power modules that are configured to protect a portion of the data center’s energy load from electrical outages.
Through a proprietary solid oxide technology, the cell generates electricity through a clean electrochemical process using air and fuel and resulting in only water and a small amount of carbon dioxide as by-products.
The installation is clean as well. Installed using no combustion, it saves at least 1.6 million pounds of avoided CO2 emissions from the California grid before biogas is even used. There’s also indirect water savings because 1 megawatt worth of demand at a local gas or coal-fired power plant is avoided.
Using the biogas fuel cells may help the colocation provider make its services more attractive to customers that care about powering their infrastructure with clean energy. Equinix customer Etsy recently discussed the importance of clean and renewable energy when selecting a data center provider.
In addition to the clean and renewable energy story, there are potential operational savings. Gas is a lot cheaper than electricity in California, a state whose electricity prices have been volatile, one example being the California Energy Crisis of the 2000s. It’s why the recent Bloom deals have been California data centers. However, projects such as these can be seen as pilots that could lead to widespread adoption as it makes both environmental and economical sense.
“This project demonstrates Equinix’s commitment to find cost-effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint and move toward 100 percent renewable energy,” said Sam Kapoor, chief global operations officer, Equinix. “By working with Bloom Energy to purchase 100 percent biogas and fuel cells, we’re able to support the energy needs of our customers in an environmentally responsible way.”
Bloom Energy continues to gain traction for its fuel cell technology with major data center operators. Its data center business has been primarily with single-tenant facilities in the past - an Apple data center in North Carolina and an eBay data center in Utah are two marquee examples. However, multi-tenant providers are starting to embrace Bloom’s technology. CenturyLink recently purchased a 500kW on-site power generation plant from Bloom for a California data center.
Several providers like ViaWest, CenturyLink, and Equinix have all mentioned increased customer inquiries into renewable energy options. Fellow colocation provider and TelecityGroup bidder Interxion recently discussed the colocation’s provider’s role in renewable energy, as well as its own work towards it achieving 100 percent renewable in all but one of its markets. Given, Europe is friendlier to renewable and clean energy usage than the United States. At least for now.
Cloud providers have faced increasing pressure to go renewable from the likes of Greenpeace, and many have responded with initiatives such as Amazon’s recent pilot of Tesla batteries. Microsoft recently opened a zero-carbon, biogas-powered data center in Wyoming that combines modular data centers with an innovative way to leverage waste from a nearby water treatment facility.
As colocation adoption increases, so will the demand for renewable and clean energy.
“Companies are increasingly turning to data center colocation services in order to interconnect with other businesses and they want to do this in an environmentally responsible way,” said Peter Gross, vice president of mission critical systems, Bloom Energy.
Bloom fuel cells make a very unusual, lean electrical design possible, as demonstrated by eBay’s deployment. Bloom can replace both the UPS and the generator. Other providers going natural gas include AT&T, which purchased several Bloom boxes for use across a dozen sites a few years ago. NTT America also deployed Bloom Energy Savers in California.