Google, Facebook, Box and Rackspace commit to powering internet with green energy

15 Nov 2013

(From left) Gary Demasi from Google, Melissa Gray from Rackspace, Bill Weihl from Facebook, Stuart Macmillan from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Andy Borer from Box. Image via George Nikitin/Greenpeace

Leaders in the tech industry have demonstrated their commitment to powering the internet with clean energy at a forum on the sustainability of the IT sector hosted by Greenpeace in California.

Representatives from Google, Facebook, Box and Rackspace took part in the panel discussion during the Greening the Internet event at the Exploratorium in San Francisco on 13 November. Each of these companies has a common goal of powering data centres with 100pc renewable energy, while Apple and Salesforce have made similar commitments.

Box is the latest company to join this group committed to 100pc renewable energy, and one of the first that does not operate its own data centres. Box’s plan is to encourage its co-location data centre providers to increase their renewable energy profile. “We are planting the seeds of sustainability now, while the company is young,” said Andy Broer, senior manager of data centre operations at Box.

According to Rackspace’s sustainability director Melissa Gray, “our customers simply expect green energy”, suggesting that environmentally friendly practices could offer a competitive advantage in the cloud computing market.

New wind and solar projects from Facebook and Google

The same day as the event, Facebook announced that its new data centre in Altoona, Iowa, will be 100pc powered by wind energy when it starts serving traffic in 2015 through a collaboration with MidAmerican Energy. “Utilities are now much more interested in collaborating with us, and I think we are at the beginning of a period in which we could see a very rapid change in the energy mix utilities are providing in just a few short years,” said Facebook’s manager of energy efficiency and sustainability, Bill Weihl.

Both Weihl and Google’s director of data centre energy and location strategy Gary Demasi noted that renewable energy can lock in stable long-term prices for electricity, one of the biggest costs in data centre operations. “The wonderful thing about power purchase agreements for clean energy is that they’re usually at a fixed price, unlike brown power costs which are dependent upon a fluctuating fuel cost,” said Demasi.

The next day (14 November), Google announced an investment of about US$80m in six utility-scale solar facilities in California and Arizona. These projects will have a combined capacity of 106MW and generate enough electricity to power more than 17,000 US homes.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.