Amazon Web Services officials are working with a company in Virginia to build and operate an 80-megawatt solar farm in the state, part of a larger effort by the cloud provider to grow its use of renewable energy.
The solar farm—which will be built in Accomack County, Va., and will power up as early as October 2016—will generate about 170,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of solar power every year, which is about the amount of energy used to power 15,000 homes in the United States, according to Amazon Web Services (AWS) officials.
The energy generated by Amazon Solar Farm US East will be sent into electrical grids that supply current and future AWS cloud data centers, they said.
The announcement comes at the same time AWS is getting pressure from environmental groups—including Greenpace and Green America—that are concerned about the power being consumed by its data centers and are demanding greater transparency from the cloud provider over its clear-energy efforts. For example, Green America created an online petition targeting AWS and demanding that the company "build a cleaner cloud." The group claims that AWS cloud data centers use enough energy to power 600,000 homes, and that 77 percent of that is non-renewable.
AWS officials in November 2014 announced long-term plans to have renewable energy power 100 percent of its global infrastructure, and in April said that they had reached 25 percent of the goal. They hope to hit 40 percent by the end of 2016. The solar farm in Virginia follows on a wind farm in Indiana that Amazon announced in January that will generate about 500,000 MWh annually. Both will play key roles in helping AWS reach its goals, officials said.
In April, AWS said it was developing a 4.8 MWh pilot project for Tesla's energy source batteries at its Northern California operations.
However, the cloud provider has argued that renewable energy is only a part of what AWS is doing to help the environment. In a post earlier this month on the company blog, Jeff Barr, chief evangelist for AWS, wrote that "any analysis of the climate impact of a data center should take into consideration resource utilization and energy efficiency, in addition to power mix. Carbon emissions are driven by three items: the number of servers running, the total energy required to power each server, and the carbon intensity of energy sources used to power these servers."
Cloud customers use 77 percent fewer servers than on-premises operations, and cloud servers tend to have a 65 percent utilization, compared with 15 percent for typical systems in data centers, Barr wrote. Along with the 77 percent fewer servers, AWS customers use 84 percent less power and use a 28 percent clean power mix, he wrote. On-premises systems tend to be 29 percent less efficient, while cloud environments reduce carbon emissions by 88 percent, according to AWS officials.
"The environmental argument for cloud computing is already surprisingly strong and I expect that the overall equation will just continue to improve going forward," Barr wrote.
For the solar farm, AWS is working with Community Energy, a 16-year-old clean energy company that builds solar and wind power projects for both residential and commercial operations. AWS' solar farm will be among the largest east of the Mississippi River, according to Community CEO Brent Alderfer.