In its quest to reduce its carbon emissions, Digital Realty on Tuesday announced that its largest San Francisco data center now runs on clean energy.
Digital Realty has tapped the San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s (SFPUC) clean electricity to power its 227,000 square-foot, 8.6MW data center at 365 Main Street – a move that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 24 million pounds a year. That’s equivalent to the power used by 1,600 homes a year, Digital Realty and SFPUC officials said.
The SFPUC produces hydroelectric power through three hydroelectric powerhouses at San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Digital Realty, a San Francisco-based global provider of colocation and interconnection solutions, transitioned from the area’s electric utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), to SFPUC’s greenhouse-gas-free electricity in December 2017.
“This is one of the many steps we are taking to increase our supply of renewable energy. It’s an ongoing priority not only in San Francisco, but for our global portfolio,” said Aaron Binkley, director of sustainability programs at Digital Realty, which owns more than 200 data centers worldwide. “For many of our customers, it’s a priority to reduce their environmental footprint for their data center operations.”
Renewable Energy Trend
Analysts say it’s become more common for colocation providers such as Digital Realty, Equinix and Switch to expand their renewable energy and sustainability initiatives. It not only helps them meet their own clean energy goals, but it also helps them compete for customers, said analyst Liz Cruz, associate director of data centers, cloud and IT infrastructure at IHS Markit.
For most traditional enterprises, it’s a nice-to-have feature that allows them to check off a box for using green energy. But because of public concern over climate change and energy consumption, hyperscale companies like Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft view access to renewable energy as an important part of the selection process when they purchase colocation services, Cruz said.
Cloud companies account for at least 20 percent of the space leased from colocation facilities, she said.
“Data centers are such a huge energy cost,” Cruz said. “The industry is aware that certain steps need to be taken to reduce energy consumption by data centers, so obviously, colocation providers will make sure they minimize their carbon footprint.”
IHS Markit analyst Maggie Shillington, who recently wrote a report on renewable energy in data centers, agrees that hyper-scalers are driving the growth of renewable energy adoption in data centers.
In fact, Google announced that its global operations, which includes data centers and offices, used 100 percent renewable energy in 2017. Apple on Monday also announced its global facilities are powered 100 percent by clean energy.
Data center operators are motivated to migrate to renewable energy sources because of internal and external factors, Shillington said. Internally, they can reduce energy costs and allow their companies to meet their sustainability policies. Externally, data center operators can meet their customers’ requirements.
“Companies who purchase colocation services have internal sustainability goals, and they want to make sure their external vendors are doing the same,” Shillington said.
Digital Realty’s San Francisco Data Center
Digital Realty’s Binkley said 30 percent of power for its global data centers come from renewable energy sources. The company’s adoption of clean energy at its San Francisco data center is just the latest effort by executives to beef up Digital Realty’s renewable energy and sustainability initiatives. For example, the company announced in December that it was increasing the use of renewable energy in its Chicago and Ashburn, GA, data centers.
Digital Realty expects the switch to clean energy will reduce the San Francisco data center’s power costs, which in turn, can result in cost savings that are passed onto customers, Binkley said.
“Lower operating costs benefit both Digital Realty and our customers,” he said.
The migration from PG&E to SFPUC power took about a year, from initial conversations and signing a contract to Digital Realty receiving the city’s hydroelectric power, said SFPUC spokesman Tyler Gamble. Digital Realty already had the infrastructure required to receive SFPUC’s power, so it didn’t have to purchase any additional equipment, he added.
Moving forward, Binkley said the company is open to using SFPUC’s clean energy at its two other data centers located in San Francisco.
In the meantime, Digital Realty has already become one of SFPUC’s largest customers. The city agency, which supplies power to San Francisco city departments and to some residential neighborhoods, is making an effort to branch out to non-municipal customers and attract more businesses, Gamble said.
“Every customer that chooses SFPUC makes an immediate impact on San Francisco’s greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “The state has climate goals and the city has climate goals, and this helps us lower the city’s overall carbon emissions profile.”