Amazon, Facebook, and Google are among the big-name technology firms announcing alternative energy investments to support infrastructure power needs. In the past month all three companies have committed to powering specific data centers with new renewable-power-source projects, and all have the eventual goal of running 100% of operations on clean energy.
Wind energy is a popular option for these companies as advancements in how wind turbines are built allow for more efficient power generation in a wider range of geographies. Data centers use tremendous amounts of electricity, and data center operators are helping to bring new wind facilities online by signing long-term power purchase agreements with the power producers.
Amazon has contracted Spanish energy firm Iberdrola to build a wind farm in North Carolina that will power its cloud data center. The development is significant to the company’s goal for 40% of its electrical grids to be powered by renewable energy by the end of 2016.
Amazon’s project will also be the first commercial-scale wind farm in the state. North Carolina is one of nine southeastern states lacking wind energy resources; the states have historically been seen as inappropriate for wind farm development due to lower wind-strength levels. But the possibilities are widening as the industry advances towards taller towers with wider diameters that can capture stronger gusts at higher altitudes.
Another major Internet company, Facebook, is bringing a new wind farm to the nation’s top wind-energy state, Texas. The partnership with Citigroup Energy, Starwood Energy Group, and Alterra Power will power Facebook’s data center in Fort Worth. Facebook already powers its Iowa data center with wind and is aiming for 50% renewable power by 2018.
Google is investing $600 million to renovate a mothballed coal-fired power plant into a renewable-energy-powered data center. The Alabama site will be 100% powered by several types of clean power sources such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric. Google currently gets about 35% of its power from renewable energy.
Other large companies investing in wind include Wal-Mart and Mars. At least 60 non-utility firms have made long-term wind purchases in recent years. This includes businesses, government agencies, and universities. Companies are motivated to lock in record-low prices and hedge against future fuel-price spikes, as well as to meet environmental sustainability goals.
While the wind plant developments are driven by corporate interest, they also feed power into the grid for area residents and create jobs for local economies.
US wind power capacity in 2014 was nearly 66,000 MW, or more than 4% of the nation’s total electric generating capacity. Renewable energy sources make up 13% of the US electric supply.