Iron Mountain, the company best known for its document storage and data center facilities in underground caverns, has become the fifth major US data center provider to make a big direct investment in renewable energy to power its operations. The company has agreed to buy 10 percent of energy that will be generated by the enormous Amazon wind farm that’s currently under construction in Texas.
As the deal illustrates, big energy users, such as data center operators, can benefit from both energy cost savings that are now possible when making utility-scale power purchase agreements and from helping their customers meet their corporate sustainability goals. Iron Mountain said it expects the deal to help it save $1.5 million in costs and that its renewable energy efforts to date are helping it open new doors with customers.
“We’ve discovered that it’s also helping us to open meaningful dialogue and collaboration opportunity with our customers who are seeking to understand and mitigate their own environmental impact,” Ty Ondatje, senior VP of corporate responsibility and chief diversity officer at Iron Mountain, said in a statement.
Representatives from multiple major data center providers have said that big colocation customers are increasingly interested in data center services powered by renewable energy. A recent survey of colocation customers by Data Center Knowledge confirmed that renewable energy is playing a growing role in companies’ decision making when it comes to selecting data center providers.
A recent Department of Energy study estimated that all US data centers consumed about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2014, representing 2 percent of the country's total energy consumption.
Amazon announced the 253MW Amazon Wind Farm Texas in September. Built by Lincoln Clean Energy, the wind farm in Scurry County will consist of more than 110 turbines.
Amazon itself has a massive international data center footprint that hosts its Amazon Web Services cloud, but, as Greenpeace senior corporate campaigner and analyst Gary Cook pointed out in an email to Data Center Knowledge, the company is likely to use energy generated by the future wind farm to offset energy consumption of its online marketplace and delivery operations as well as the brick-and-mortar retail stores it has started to open, rather than AWS.
“That being said -- that's a lot of power, and while Amazon.com does have eight distribution facilities in the states, that's a lot of lights and conveyors,” he added. “They could be positioning to make a claim for their retail operations, and biting off a big affordable chunk [of energy] in Texas to spread around.”
Iron Mountain expects its share of the farm’s capacity to produce up to 100,000MWh per year, which is enough to offset about one-third of the company’s entire energy consumption in the US. It’s enough to cover all 75 of its facilities in Texas and more, the company said.
While analysts often include Iron Mountain in the group of publicly traded data center REITs, the Boston-based company does a lot more than the others on that list, who are all strictly data center providers. Started as a mushroom seller that grew its product in underground caverns in early 20th century, the company pivoted to underground document storage during the Cold War, when corporations and government agencies wanted to protect their records from a potential nuclear attack.
In recent years, it converted some of the space in its underground and aboveground facilities in the Boston, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City markets for data center use. Today, the company’s specialization is end-to-end records management, be those records physical or digital.
Iron Mountain is one of several data center giants who recently made big investments in renewable energy.
Last year, Equinix, the world’s largest data center provider, signed three power purchase agreements with developers whose future wind and solar farms in California, Oklahoma, and Texas are expected to offset all energy its data centers in North America consume.
Switch, the company that operates the massive SuperNAP data center campus in Las Vegas and that is currently building new campuses outside of Reno, Nevada, and outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has also made renewable energy deals to cover its operations in all three locations.
See also: Why Switch is Suing Nevada and NV Energy
Earlier this year, Digital Realty Trust, the San Francisco-based global data center services giant, also announced a power purchase agreement with a developer of a wind farm in Texas to offset energy consumption of all of its retail colocation (not wholesale) facilities in North America. The company also has a global renewable energy sourcing program for wholesale customers.
Chicago-based QTS Realty Trust has invested in a smaller amount of capacity than the utility-scale PPAs signed by its competitors, but it has taken an even more direct approach. The company has built a 14MW solar plant across 50 acres in New Jersey to help power its data center in Princeton, occupied by McGraw Hill, the financial and education publishing giant.