Amazon announced that their Virginia data centers will now feature solar energy, helping to move the industry squarely in a green direction. There will be an addition of 80 megawatts (MW) of solar farming added throughout Accomack County, Virginia and this is already being dubbed the Amazon Solar Farm US East by the company. It’s the second largest green power movement in 2015 alone, nipping on the heels of the AWS major Indiana wind deal. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has partnered up with Community Energy for the project and ultimate operations. It’s slated to begin boasting 170,000 MW hours (MWh) by October of 2016.
Historically, Virginia has been a popular data center location choice, but doesn’t have many solar farms. By far, AWS will have the biggest solar farm in the region, and all energy will operate via an electrical grid that powers the company’s cloud data centers in the area. Most of AWS’ data centers are located in Virginia and are powered by Dominion Power, a local company that currently only uses two percent renewable energy. Dominion’s remaining sources are nuclear, gas and coal, reports Greenpeace. This move will make a dramatically positive difference in Amazon’s carbon footprint and will create jobs in Virginia.
Not only will the solar farm power existing data centers, but also planned data centers both in eastern and central US areas. The VP of infrastructure, Jerry Hunter, says the plant will serve as a precedence for sustainable energy throughout the state. For years, Greenpeace and Amazon have been at odds. Greenpeace considers Amazon one of the cloud providers that relies heavily on “dirty energy.” However, at the end of 2014, Amazon committed to pursuing total sustainable energy consumption moving forward, and it looks like they’re keeping that promise.
At the start of the year, Amazon made a major Indiana purchase and moved into wind farm territory. The Amazon Web Services “Wind Farm” will be up and running by early 2016 and will produce 150 MW. It’s expected to offer 500,000 MWh each year, and has secured an agreement with Pattern Energy Group for the next 13 years. Pattern will serve as the project developer, and of course the Indiana project has also led to job stimulation in Indiana.
Wind farms and solar farms aren’t the only aces up Amazon’s sleeves. In early 2015, the company also announced that Tesla batteries were going to be tried out in the western part of the country. Data centers gobble up batteries, and the right options can be a great way to apply renewable energy. A concern with wind/solar energy is the issue with intermittency, however when power is stored correctly that hurdle can be removed. Tesla batteries may be the answer, are 100 percent renewable and might be the ticket to widespread green data center adoption.
Right now, the Virginia data centers are Amazon’s largest and result in $6 billion revenue year after year. It also just happens to be a “GovCloud Region,” which means it’s an area that has been designated to serve government entities. There are currently two additional Amazon projects being constructed in Virginia, with one mega center rumored to be in Ashburn. Recently, the Ashburn site experienced a fire (nobody was hurt) and another proposed center in Haymarket has residents picketing against construction thanks to Dominion’s desire to also build a new power line in the area. Growth in Virginia hasn’t been, and won’t be, easy.
The Virginia Monopoly Piece
Amazon might be going totally green, but given the incredible presence and size already evident in Virginia, opposition will occur. The company hasn’t made any formal announcements about whether Dominion will still be in the picture, but given the push towards sustainable energy it could go either way. However, data centers are ultimately customers and Dominion will have to really work to gain and keep Amazon around—at least until the company goes totally green. In some instances, tech companies have bullied utility companies into investing in renewable energy, such as the Google and Apple efforts in North Carolina with Duke Energy.
However, the Virginia government thinks Amazon is headed in the right direction. Terry McAuliffe, the state’s governor, says, “Amazon’s new solar project will create good jobs on the Eastern Shore and generate more clean, renewable energy to fuel the Virginia economy.” Only time will tell how this plays out, but it’s a solid step in the right direction and a great reputation booster for Amazon.