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Microsoft sets stricter renewable energy targets for its datacentres

Software giant claims its efforts to have its datacentres run exclusively on renewable power are progressing faster than expected, prompting it to reassess its own self-imposed sustainability targets

Microsoft claims its datacentre-focused efforts to ramp up the amount of renewable energy used to power its server farms is progressing faster than expected, prompting it to revise its targets.

The software giant confirmed in a blog post it’s giving itself until 2023 to overachieve on its bid to have 70% of its facilities powered by renewable energy, having already hit its previous targets a year earlier than planned.

“In 2016, we announced we would power our datacentres with more renewable energy, setting a 50% target by the end of 2018 and topping 60% early in the next decade while continuing to improve from there,” wrote Brad Smith, president and legal officer at Microsoft, in the post.

“We hit the first target nearly a year ahead of schedule, and today we are sharing the news we will reach the 60% milestone before the end of this year.”

These targets are designed to guide the firm towards getting all of its datacentres to be powered exclusively by renewable energy in due course, but the firm is also expanding its datacentre sustainability efforts into new areas as well, said Smith.

For example, the company is planning to lean on internet of things (IoT), blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to monitor the performance of its datacentre kit to “streamline our reuse, resale and recycling of datacentre assets”, he said.

It is also committing to introducing a “water replenishment strategy” to ensure there are sufficient supplies to replace the water used to cool its facilities in drought-prone areas by 2030.

Read more about datacentre sustainability

These commitments are part of a wider, decade-long push by Microsoft to reduce its carbon footprint and improve the sustainability of business operations overall, which Smith acknowledges need to be stepped up in light of the growing environmental pressure the world is under.

The company has previously committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 75% by 2030, and introduced measures in 2012 that hold its individual business units financially responsible for doing their bit to support its efforts here through the introduction of a carbon tax.

As confirmed in the blog post, this tax is being doubled to $15 per metric ton of emissions to incentivise its business divisions to help curb the organisation’s carbon footprint even further.

“The funds from this higher fee will both maintain Microsoft’s carbon neutrality and help us take a tech-first approach that will put sustainability at the core of every part of our business and technology to work for sustainable outcomes,” said Smith.

“This means we’ll continue to keep our house in order and improve it, while addressing sustainability challenges around the globe by engaging our strongest assets as a company – our employees and our technologies.”

To this end, the company said it plans to use the Microsoft Azure public cloud to host large environmental data science sets and make them available to research groups, and find ways for its technologies to help address sustainability challenges on a global basis.

Sharing information

Microsoft’s decision to double down on datacentre sustainability coincides with the news that UK government departments are being asked to share information about the energy footprint of the cloud services they use, as revealed by Computer Weekly.

The UK government is far from alone in its decision to subject the energy usage habits of the cloud and datacentre industry to closer scrutiny. It’s also an issue European Union lawmakers are seeking to address through the roll-out of Lot 9 of the Ecodesign Directive.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace, for example, also reports on the energy usage and sourcing habits of various cloud and internet firms on an annualised basis in its Clicking clean reports, and repeatedly calls on those featured to ramp up their use of renewable energy.

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