A common criticism of cloud technology is its energy consumption. The many data centers that make cloud storage seamless and convenient, is also a major consumer of power. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, US data centers consumed a whopping 91 billion kilowatts of electricity in 2013, and this is roughly equal to the output of 34 mega coal power plants. At this rate of consumption, it is estimated that data centers will need 140 billion kilowatts of electricity by 2020.
Sounds unsustainable? You’re absolutely right!
The amount of coal that’ll be needed to power these plants coupled with the high rates of emission is sure to add more damage to climate change and environmental degradation.
To lower pollution levels, many top cloud providers are beginning to look at the possible use of renewable energy to power their data centers. Wind and solar are expected to the biggest sources of renewable power for cloud technology within the next few years.
Recently, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that it would build a 189-megawatt wind farm in Hardin County, Ohio. This wind farm alone is expected to generate 530,000 megawatts a year, beginning from the end of December, 2017. In fact, this wind farm will be AWS’ fifth renewable energy farm, with already three being operational, and the fourth one expected to come online in May 2017. The existing three wind farms are located in North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana respectively. With these farms, already 40 percent of AWS’ operations are powered by renewable energy, and the company plans to increase it to 50 percent by the end of 2017. Eventually, AWS plans to source 100 percent of its energy consumption from renewable energy.
Besides AWS, other top cloud providers are also taking the renewable route, though their plans are not as ambitious as that of the market leader. Microsoft uses wind, solar, and hydro power plants to power its data centers, and estimates show that about 44 percent of its energy consumption comes from these sources. The company aims to reach the half-way mark by 2018, and keep improving from there on. In addition, Microsoft has been carbon neutral since 2012.
Google, another major player in the cloud market, has a different approach to tackling the problem of power consumption. This company believes it’s not practical to build large renewable energy farms in places where its data centers are located, rather it believes these farms should be located in places that are most conducive to it. For example, solar farms should be in sunny states like Arizona and California, and not in Minnesota and Wisconsin, even if this is where the data centers are located.
This company thinks a more pragmatic approach would be to buy renewable energy to power its data centers, instead of harnessing it directly from farms. This way, the company may have more flexibility in terms of the provider.
Regardless of the approach, it’s heartening to see these top companies lead the way in making this planet a more sustainable and livable place for future generations.