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Microsoft signs 20-year wind energy deal to power datacentres

Archana Venkatraman

Microsoft has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) for wind energy with EDF Renewable Energy – its “largest wind investment to date”. The deal will see the cloud and software company purchase up to 675,000MWh of renewable energy each year to power its IT facilities from 2015.

The deal, for the output of the Pilot Hill wind farm in Illinois, is Microsoft’s second PPA following a Texas wind energy deal in November as part of the company’s commitment to become carbon-neutral by making its datacentres and software development labs more efficient.

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Pilot Hill will supply about 60% more energy than the Keechi wind farm in Texas. The deal will be funded in part by proceeds from Microsoft’s carbon fee.

“This project builds on our commitment to renewable energy and our strategic objective to transform the energy supply chain toward radically greater efficiency and reduced environmental impact,” said Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist at Microsoft on the company blog.

The Illinois wind farm is on the same electric grid that powers Microsoft’s Chicago datacentre and will be ready to deliver green power next year.

“The energy generated at Pilot Hill is ‘additional’, which means that our purchase is bringing new renewable energy onto the Illinois electric grid,” Bernard said. “By purchasing wind, we will reduce the overall amount of emissions associated with operating Microsoft facilities and hopefully spur additional investment in renewable energy.

“Because the Chicago datacentre draws power from the Illinois power grid, projects like Pilot Hill help provide a non-polluting source of energy that displaces greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power.”

In its efforts to make its datacentres energy-efficient, Microsoft uses recycled waste water for cooling its San Antonio datacentre in Texas and uses hydropower as the primary source of energy in its Quincy, Washington, facility.

Last year, Microsoft also announced a proof-of-concept datacentre with fuel cells mounted on the server racks. Such datacentres have now moved a step closer to reality, Bernard said. “In addition, over the past fiscal year, we have purchased more than 3 billion kWh of green power, equivalent to 100% of our global electricity use.”

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it is investing millions in next-generation energy such as microturbines and distributed generation technologies to transform energy consumption at datacentres.

“Distributed generation will be an important part of how we power our datacentres as we continue to pursue Microsoft’s energy strategy of transforming the energy supply chain,” Brian Janous, director of energy strategy at Microsoft, said at that time.

In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency recognised Microsoft as the second largest purchaser of green power in the US, after Intel. The Azure cloud provider also doubled the purchase of renewable energy from 1.1 billion kWh to 2.3 billion kWh that year.

Microsoft is committed to reducing its environmental footprint and the 20-year wind energy deal is “another move to make our operations more environmentally sustainable”, Bernard added.


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