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Published on January 25th, 2019 | by Danielle

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Facebook’s New Virginia Data Center To Run On Solar Power

After a busy year of dealing with the legal aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal and rebuilding trust with millions of users, Facebook is turning its attention towards a commitment to clean energy.

Data center developer Digital Realty Trust has made a deal on behalf of the social media giant to buy about 80 megawatts of solar capacity. This source of renewable energy will help run a Virginia data center where Facebook leases space. According to a statement from Digital Realty, Facebook will get all of the renewable energy certificates associated with the project.

This deal represents the widespread efforts of tech companies across the country to power their data centers with renewable energy. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has noted this demand for clean energy, with records showing existing data centers upgrading to new IT equipment every three to five years. While upgrades in the name of sustainability are fairly simple in facilities that a company owns, the deals become more complicated in colocation centers like that of Digital Realty.

According to Bobby Hollis, Facebook’s director of global energy and site selection, the complications are similar to those that any renter faces when they try to control their utilities. Even a major figure in the tech world like Facebook needs to turn to their landlord, Digital Realty, to broker deals regarding their energy supply.

Tech giant Google has avoided these types of complications by building its data centers on land the company purchases. According to a regulatory filing from Minnesota’s largest energy company, Xcel Energy, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is planning to build a $600 million data center in a small town called Becker less than 50 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

By building in Becker, Google’s newest data center would automatically qualify for a standard 20-year state sales tax exemption. While corporate income taxes comprised 11% of the taxes the federal government collected in 2015, the exemption would be for the company’s information technology equipment, software, and electricity that operates the data center.

If Google does choose Becker for this project, it will purchase about 300 acres of land from Xcel for the construction. Xcel is also positioned to supply the data center with renewable energy from two large wind farms. This commitment to clean energy is in line with Google’s standard operating procedure, as it currently holds the title of the world’s biggest corporate buyer of renewable energy.

Not to be left behind, Facebook is hot on Google’s tails in their commitment to clean energy. The social media powerhouse has publicly committed to using 100% renewable energy to power its operations and to reduce its greenhouse gas footprints by 75% by 2020. This pledge will be quite the challenge, as just 51% of Facebook’s energy was renewable at the end of 2017. The rest was a mix of primarily coal, natural gas, and nuclear power.

Plans to expand further may also hinder the company’s goal, as new operations and buildings mean more greenhouse gas emissions. However, if Facebook focuses on sustainable options for even the smallest parts of their buildings, they may meet their goal. Even passive systems of mitigation that reduce indoor levels of radon by more than 50% can operate on renewable energy.

As the greenhouse gas emissions linked with Facebook data center operations nearly doubled from 360,000 metric tons in 2013 to 600,000 in 2017, every small effort will make a big difference for the social network.


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