When it comes to the green data center trend, online giant eBay seems determined to beat out other A-list rivals such as Facebook, Apple and Google. eBay’s flagship data center in Utah will be powered by alternative energy in the form of 30 large-scale fuel cells called Bloom Energy servers, provided by the company Bloom Energy.
Aside from helping eBay to boost its green profile, the new installation could help the state of Utah establish a place for itself in renewable energy leadership. When completed, eBay’s six-megawatt fuel cell installation will be the largest non-utility fuel cell array in the entire country – and to ice the sustainability cake, the fuel cells will be powered with biogas from renewable organic waste sources.
Fuel cells and green branding
The new fuel cells will provide enough power to operate eBay’s data center, though the facility will still maintain a connection to the conventional electricity grid for backup.
According to eBay President and CEO, John Donahoe, the renewable power source goes beyond window dressing to cement eBay’s position as a leader in the next-generation technologies that will drive commercial enterprise into the future:
“Technology-led innovation is changing retail and revolutionizing how people shop and pay. We also want to revolutionize how shopping is powered… Running our data centers primarily on reliable, renewable energy, we intend to shape a future for commerce that is more environmentally sustainable at its core.”
Bloom Energy servers
Conventional power generation relies on combustion, or burning fuel. In contrast, fuel cells like the Bloom Energy servers produce energy through a chemical reaction.
Power to get the reaction going has to come from somewhere, and fuel cells can run on renewable energy as well as conventional sources. In the case of Apple’s new fuel cells for its massive North Carolina data center, at least initially the fuel cell array will run on conventional natural gas, but Apple is already offsetting that use with biogas credits (Apple’s fuel cells are made by Bloom, also).
eBay’s Utah data center
eBay’s new fuel cells are due to be fully operational by around this time next year. The company anticipates that each Bloom Energy server will generate about 1.75 million kilowatt hours annually.
Since the servers are located within the data center compound, power losses due to grid disruptions will be virtually eliminated. In addition, there will be no need for expensive backup generators that require a large investment but are not in use for more than a few days per year.
Green energy reaching millions – like it or not
According to Bloom Energy, its eBay servers will provide the power for millions of transactions by eBay users and other eBay platforms including PayPal and StubHub. Except for those users who are paying attention to eBay’s green public relations pitches, the transition to alternative energy will be virtually seamless and invisible.
In this regard, the new data center also demonstrates how quickly alternative energy is making the transition from a trendy oddity to an inexorable juggernaut of a trend. Because of the Bloom Energy servers, green energy will get a foot into the homes and businesses of tens of millions of eBay users regardless of whether or not they support sustainability policies or subscribe to the most die-hard climate change denialism.
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