Two years after it did a pilot fuel-cell installation at one of its Silicon Valley data centers, Equinix is making a big bet on the technology, which uses a chemical process to convert natural gas to electricity.
The Redwood City, California-based data center provider today announced a deal that will see fuel cells installed at 12 additional US data centers. The deal will be financed by the utility Southern Company, with whom Equinix signed a power purchase agreement for a total of about 37MW of generation capacity, which will be the largest single deployment of fuel cells for data centers to date.
The fuel cells will be supplied by Bloom Energy, a leader in the market whose energy servers have been deployed on corporate campuses, at data centers by eBay, Apple, NTT, CenturyLink, and at two Verizon data centers Equinix took over when it acquired the large data center portfolio from the telco earlier this year.
Fuel cells produce significantly fewer carbon emissions than traditional gas-fueled power plants; they also don’t require water, unlike power plants, which consume massive amounts of water to generate energy. Apple has made fuel cells part of its corporate sustainability program, using Bloom’s technology to provide 10MW of capacity for its Maiden, North Carolina, data center campus.
The technology, which produces energy on-site, is also considered more reliable than America’s old, outage-prone electrical grid. eBay is using Bloom fuel cells as a primary energy source for its data center in Utah, relying for backup on the electrical grid instead of diesel generators one sees in most data centers.
The most commonly cited drawback of fuel cells is their high upfront cost, which has been addressed with various financing schemes, such as Equinix’s agreement with Southern. In 2013 Bloom created a leasing program for its energy servers, giving customers the option of paying for the product over time, financed by Bank of America.
The deal will bring Equinix’s total fuel-cell capacity to more than 40MW, including its existing Silicon Valley installation and the two Verizon sites, in Los Angeles and New York.
New fuel cells will be installed at the following Equinix data centers:
- Silicon Valley: SV1 through SV6, plus SV10;
- New York metro: NY2, NY4, and NY5;
- Los Angeles metro: LA3 and LA4
Customer appetite for colocation data center services powered by renewable energy has been on the rise in recent years, and providers like Equinix have been responding by making public commitments to renewable energy goals and by striking the types of utility-scale power purchase agreements that Google pioneered to clean up its data center energy supply.
Equinix, the world’s largest colocation and interconnection company, has a long-term goal of powering its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy. According to its most recent sustainability report, it was at 56 percent renewable as of last year.