Last year, Microsoft committed to become carbon neutral. The mechanism for achieving this is an internal carbon fee charged to each business group and department for the amount of carbon emissions associated with their operations. These fees are treated as real money so that the cost of doing business effectively gets higher, particularly for those divisions with high energy consumption. The result has been slowly working its way through the system and impacting decisions.
The beauty of an approach like this is that managers who may care about climate change, may not even believe it is a problem, are now making plans to ensure their carbon footprints are minimized.
One very concrete result of this experiment is the announcement this week that Microsoft has signed a twenty year purchase power agreement from a wind farm that is to be newly constructed in Jack County, Texas, some 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth.
The Keechi Wind Project will consist of 55 wind turbines produced by Vestas in Colorado, with a combined capacity of 110 megawatts. Microsoft’s data center in nearby San Antonio is on the same power grid. Because of utility regulations, the data center will continue to purchase power as a retail customer from CPS Energy in San Antonio. Construction is scheduled to begin next year. The investment is expected to further strengthen an already robust wind power industry in Texas, which still gets a large share of its energy form non-renewable sources. Purchase Power Agreements (PPA) like this are good for wind developers as they provide the secured source of revenue which allows them to readily obtain the financing they need to move forward with a project of this size. The name derives from the Keechi Indians, who once lived in the area.
As the company increasingly moves into cloud-based applications and online services such as Bing, MSN, Office 365, Xbox Live, SkyDrive, Skype, and the Windows Azure platform, there is a growing demand for data center infrastructure. In order for the company to expand what is already one of the world’s largest cloud infrastructures while meeting its sustainability goals, attention must be paid to the impact on the overall grid.
Says Brian Janous, Microsoft Director of Energy Strategy, the Keechi Project fits the company’s objectives well because green power is consistent with “our commitment to carbon neutrality,” it’s smart because of improving economics, and because “grid-connected projects align with datacenter scale and density.” Furthermore, the project complements the company’s investments in other areas that attempt to balance to the respective roles of grid power and distributed generation. The result is really a threefold strategy.
Microsoft’s path for delivering power to supply their cloud infrastructure is, according to Janous, “focused both on how we optimize for efficiency inside our footprint, but also how we integrate and invest in driving greater sustainability and scalable efficiencies in the broader energy supply chain.” Janous shares three overarching goals that drive this effort:
- Distribute hyper-efficient generation solutions to the datacenter that radically reduce the amount of energy required to deliver cloud services.
- Deliver to the grid low-cost and efficient energy through participation in utility-scale generation projects.
- Develop the next generation of energy technologies that will make future distributed and grid-connected projects radically more efficient.
Keechi Wind is hardly a first venture into renewable energy for Microsoft, (infographic) whose Redmond, Washington campus receives 50 percent of its electricity from hydro-power. Solar power provides 15 percent of the energy for its Silicon Valley campus, and a new carbon free data center in Cheyenne, Wyoming will use fuel cells to derive power from biogas that will be produced as a byproduct of a water treatment plant.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.
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