Microsoft Data Centers Bet Big on Wind Power

The company's cloud data center in Wyoming will be completely powered by wind energy and serve as a source of backup electricity for its neighbors.

Microsoft Wind Power 2

Microsoft's quest to build a "responsible cloud" took a gusty turn today.

Currently, 44 percent of electricity consumed by Microsoft's cloud data centers comes from renewable energy sources. By 2018, the Redmond, Wash. technology giant hopes to bump that figure up to 50 percent, a goal that has become more attainable with a new energy deal announced today.

Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft, announced a 237-megawatt wind energy purchase, the largest deal of its kind for the company. It will allow Microsoft's Cheyenne, Wyo. data center to run completely on renewable energy.

The bulk of the electricity, or 178 megawatts, hails from the Bloom Wind Project in Kansas, as part of a 10-year agreement with Allianz Risk Transfer. The Happy Jack and Silver Sage wind farms, both located in Wyoming, are supplying the remaining 59 megawatts.

Three years ago, Microsoft entered a 20-year renewable energy purchasing agreement with RES Americas for the 110 megawatts of wind power produced by the Keechi Wind Farm northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. The following year Microsoft signed another 20-year deal, this time with the Pilot Hill Wind Project in Illinois. Situated 60 miles south of Chicago, the site supplies Microsoft with 175 megawatts of electricity, which the company uses to power its data center in the region.

Not only is Microsoft lowering its reliance on carbon-emitting energy sources in Wyoming, the company also struck a deal with Black Hills Energy to help improve the Cheyenne area electrical grid's reliability without building new power plants.

Essentially, the utility can tap Microsoft's backup generators to smooth out sudden surges in electrical demand or dips in renewable energy production when they occur.

According to Smith's Nov. 14 announcement, "Microsoft approached Black Hills Energy with an innovative new solution to deliver reliability without additional costs for ratepayers. Microsoft and Black Hills Energy established a new tariff, available to all eligible customers, that lets the utility use our datacenter’s backup generators as a secondary resource for the entire grid." Microsoft uses cleaner and more efficient natural gas turbines in place of traditional diesel generators, added Smith.

Microsoft isn't the only technology giant that is hoping to float a clean cloud.

On Sept. 15, Amazon announced its largest renewable energy project in the company's history, a new 253-megawatt wind farm. Located in Scurry County, Texas, and expected to open in late 2017, Amazon Wind Farm Texas will generate 1 million megawatt hours of wind energy each year, or enough to power nearly 90,000 homes.

Although it carries the Amazon name, the wind farm will be built, owned and operated by Lincoln Clean Energy. Amazon is purchasing roughly 90 percent of the energy produced there.

A month ago, Google, along with AkzoNobel, DSM, and Philips, established a consortium to purchase renewable power in the Netherlands. The group has pledged to buy 0.35 terawatt hours' worth of power each year from Windpark Krammer when it is completely up and running in 2019, enabling Google to run its new data center in Eemshaven on renewable energy.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...