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By Katrine Tilgaard Petersen
Microsoft has been powered by 100 percent renewable electricity since 2014. In 2015, the tech giant joined RE100, a global corporate leadership initiative by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, now bringing together 130 ambitious companies committed to sourcing entirely renewable power.
U.S. companies are taking a stand in these politically chaotic times.
So far, 127 technology firms are firing back at President Donald Trump's travel ban affecting immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The movement was led by nearly 100 Silicon Valley companies who filed a legal brief on Sunday to oppose the highly controversial executive order, arguing that it is unconstitutional and "inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth." Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Uber, Reddit, Netflix and Dropbox were among the 97 companies that initially signed on to support Washington state's lawsuit against Trump's order.
That list got substantially larger late Monday afternoon, when Tesla, SpaceX and 29 other tech firms joined the brief.
Tesla and SpaceX were notably absent on the original list of signatories. CEO Elon Musk, who happens to sit on Trump's business advisory council, previously said he would use his position to "express our objections to the recent executive order on immigration."
But as a Tesla spokesperson told the Verge, "as soon as we saw the brief this morning, we insisted on being added."
The suit is being heard in the ninth circuit federal court in San Francisco, California and has already succeeded in temporarily halting the enforcement of the executive order.
Many other companies are making real efforts to be socially responsible. The outdoor industry as a whole has taken a stand against Utah state's and the federal government's proposals to shed public lands.
In an open letter to Trump and Congress, more than 100 outdoor industry leaders led by REI have called upon elected officials to protect public lands and the integrity of the outdoor recreation industry, which powers $646 billion in gross national product.
Outdoor clothing big-hitter Patagonia also announced on Tuesday it will not participate in Utah's Outdoor Retailer shows after Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution on Friday urging the Trump administration to repeal the newly named Bears Ears National Monument.
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Microsoft's data center in Cheyenne, Wyoming.Microsoft
With the latest deal, the company now purchases more than 500 megawatts of wind energy in the country. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the top 50 corporate buyers of solar and wind power in the U.S. will add more than 17 gigawatts by 2020, as the role of companies in combating climate change is expected to become even more important under a Trump administration.
"This investment in wind energy keeps us on pace to meet the energy goals we set last spring," Brad Smith of Microsoft said in a blog post. "We announced earlier this year that roughly 44 percent of the electricity consumed by Microsoft's datacenters comes from wind, solar and hydropower, and we committed to raising this to 50 percent by 2018 and to 60 percent by early in the next decade.
"Innovation and sustainability go hand in hand. We're thinking differently about our datacenters and how we can build and operate them in a more sustainable way. And the innovations we're piloting in this deal are not only good for business, but also good for local communities and the environment as well."
For a deeper dive:
Commentary: The Conversation, Joe Arvai op-ed
According to a new Greenpeace report, the Web would rank sixth in energy demand if it were a country. The amount of Internet data out there is expected to have tripled from 2012 to 2017. In that time, the Web population is expected to grow from 2.3 billion in 2012 to 3.6 billion people by 2017, or half of the world's population.
With that sort of virtual volume on deck, Web companies have to become greener.
In Clicking Clean: How Companies Are Creating the Green Internet, Greenpeace researchers make it clear which companies are leading the movement and which ones are still relying on fossil fuels.
Greenpeace evaluated the energy choices of 19 familiar Internet companies and more than 300 of their data centers. Five of those firms have announced a goal of powering their operations with 100-perecent renewable energy.
“Apple, Facebook and Google are powering our online lives with clean energy, and building a greener offline world for everyone in the process,” Gary Cook, a Greenpeace senior IT analyst, said in a statement. “These companies have proven over the past 24 months that wind and solar energy are ready and waiting to power the internet, and the rest of our economy, with clean electricity."
While all three companies are known for the renewable energy investments of recent years, Greenpeace particularly singled out Apple, the only company to earn a 100-percent score on its four-category Clean Energy Index. The company powers facilities like its Reno, NV data center with all clean energy, despite the local utility's resource mix being more than half comprised of natural gas. The same goes Apple's facility in Maiden, N.C., where 57 percent of the local mix is made up of nuclear energy.
Apple's North Carolina data center, which is home to the iCloud service, is powered by the largest privately owned solar installation in the country. Amazon and eBay, on the other hand, received 15 and 6 percent, respectively, on their indexes.
“Apple’s rapid shift to renewable energy over the past 24 months has made it clear why it’s one of the world’s most innovative and popular companies,” Cook said. “By continuing to buy dirty energy, Amazon Web Services not only can’t seem to keep up with Apple, but is dragging much of the internet down with it.”
In the organization's own words, here is what Greenpeace wants all "major" Internet companies to do:
- Make a long-term commitment to become 100-percent renewably powered.
- Commit to transparency on IT performance and consumption of resources, including the source of electricity, to enable customers, investors, and stakeholders to measure progress toward that goal.
- Develop a strategy for increasing their supply of renewable energy, through a mixture of procurement, investment, and corporate advocacy to both electricity suppliers and government decision-makers.
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It takes a lot of energy to enable web users to stream videos, downloads books and other online activities—about the same amount it would take to power 30 nuclear power plants.
Data centers around the world use about 30 gigawatts, or 30 billion watts of electricity, according to Green House Data. U.S. data centers account for nearly one-third of that amount, according to estimates compiled by The New York Times.
Stanford University research fellow Jonathan G. Koomey told the publication that U.S. data centers used about 76 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010, which equates to about 2 percent of the electricity used by the entire country that year.
Powering data centers with renewable energy sources like wind or solar is an obvious solution to global energy problems. Here are three companies who have announced plans to power their data centers with renewable energy:
The software corporation announced Monday that it would buy 110 megawatts (MW) of energy from a wind farm 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth, Texas to power its San Antonio data center. The 20-year agreement marks the first time the company will power a data center with clean energy.
"For Microsoft, signing a long-term [power purchase agreement] for wind energy is a significant milestone in our commitment to carbon neutrality," Robert Bernard wrote on the company's Green Blog. "It also underscores how the carbon fee is changing the way Microsoft does business globally. By placing a dollar value on a metric ton of carbon, Microsoft is building environmental sustainability into our long term business planning and creating a blueprint for more purchases of renewable energy like this one."
- An increase in the percentage of renewable energy, from 35 percent to 75 percent, over the last three years at corporate facilities.
- Apple opted out of default grid mix program in Prineville, OR in order to power its under-construction data center with wind, hydroelectric and solar.
- Like existing data centers in Maiden, NC and Newark, CA, a new Reno, NV site will be completely powered by renewable energy
Google purchased 48 MW of wind energy in 2012 to power a data center in Oklahoma that helps store Gmail, Google Docs and search engine results, Greenpeace reported. The company was faced with using a 50-percent coal mix before striking a power purchase agreement with the local utility.
Google also has a habit of investing millions in renewable facilities. The company Google announced its 13th renewable energy investment in three years last month by helping to fund a 265.7 MW solar project in California. The company pledged $103 million to Silver Ridge Power’s Mount Signal Solar project, which will power 80,000 homes and create 900 construction jobs. Google's clean energy investment portfolio—which has eclipsed $1 billion—also includes projects in Germany and South Africa.
“We invest in these projects because they make business sense, because they help put more renewable energy on the grid and because they have a positive impact on the local economies where they operate,” Google corporate finance head Kojo Ako-Asare said.