Prominent tech companies embrace wind energy

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By Terri Williams February 16th, 2018
For business

Tech giants are accustomed to being digital – and by extension, social – trendsetters. However, many tech companies are also taking the lead in renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular.

For example, in November 2017, Microsoft announced that it would purchase 100% of the wind energy produced by a 180-megawatt wind farm that will be built next to Microsoft’s data operations center in the Netherlands. This is considered one of the largest wind deals in the country, and when completed, will include 100 windmills.

Just two months earlier, Microsoft and General Electric announced a plan to partner on a wind project in Ireland. Microsoft agreed to purchase 100% of the wind energy generated by the 37-megawatt Tullahennel wind farm. Microsoft has four operational data centers in Dublin, and this 15-year agreement was actually the company’s first renewable energy acquisition outside of the U.S.

In 2016, Microsoft committed to improving its energy mix, maintaining carbon neutrality, and investing in new energy technologies. It backed up its talk. That same year, it invested in the Kansas-based Bloom Wind project (178 megawatts), and the Happy Jack and Silver Sage wind projects (59 megawatts) near its Wyoming data center. Earlier, in 2014, the Pilot Hill Wind Project was designed to power the data center in Chicago.

Google’s wind energy drive

In 2016, Google announced plans to get all of the energy used in its global data centers from wind farms and solar panels by the end of 2017. For example, the wind farm in Minco, OK – a facility spanning 50,000 acres – supports the company’s Pryor, OK-based data center. Google has also purchased an Altamont wind farm close to Livermore, CA, to supply power to the Googleplex and data centers.

Back in 2013, the company also invested $200 million in the Spinning Spur, a wind farm in Oldham County, TX. Several years earlier, Google also invested in two wind farms in North Dakota, and then signed a 20-year contract with an Iowa wind farm.

Other wind energy efforts

Facebook is another tech company committed to wind energy. For example, in 2015, Facebook partnered to build a wind farm near the company’s Fort Worth, TX, location. The 202-megawatt wind farm moves Facebook closer to its commitment to use 50% renewable energy to power its operations.

Meanwhile, Intel installed 58 micro-turbines on the roof of its Santa Clara, CA, headquarters.

Why are some prominent tech businesses turning to wind energy?  “It provides them evidence of ‘being environmentally conscious’ in their choice of energy providers,” according to Andrew Swift, associate director of the National Wind Institute and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Texas Tech University.

Tech giants and energy use

A 2014 study by Stanford University found that data centers were responsible for 1.3% of energy use around the world; it was 2% in the U.S. In 2016, Google was accused of using more energy than the entire city of San Francisco – and most of the energy is used in data centers.

However, by January 2018, the top 7 companies on the EPA Green Power Partnership National Top 100, (which represents the largest green power users) included Intel, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Cisco.

The economic argument for wind power

The desire to appear environmentally friendly is not the only motive, according to Swift. “Also, Wind Energy Power Purchase Agreement costs have fallen significantly in recent months,” he explains. “Finally, costs are fixed for a wind energy contract, since there is no variable fuel cost tied to the power delivery, making future planning for energy costs a known quantity”.

But, will these high-profile tech companies be able to influence companies in other industries to consider wind energy? Swift believes so. “Yes, for the reasons stated above, and if they have an opportunity to do so given the location of available wind energy contracts and their load center,” he concludes.

Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Photo courtesy of flickr user/bfishadow