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Microsoft ramps up push for greener data centers

23 May 2016

Microsoft is stepping up its push for greener data centers, pledging to increase its use of renewable energy sources

The company’s data centers – and the rest of the company – have been 100% carbon neutral since 2012, but Microsoft says it is now stepping up its use of wind, solar and hydropower electricity.

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, says wind, solar and hydropower currently account for about 44% of the electricity used by Microsoft’s data centers.

“We recognise that both the volume and percent of energy from these renewable sources needs to be higher,” Smith says.

“Our goal is to pass the 50% milestone by the end of 2018, top 60% early in the next decade and then to keep improving from there.

“Given the magnitude of data center expansion that will continue throughout this time period, this is not a small goal,” he adds.

Smith says the use of energy and sustainability practices of data centers that power the cloud is one of a number of ‘new and important public issues’ emerging from the move to cloud.

“When it comes to sustainability, we’ve made important progress as a company since the start of this decade, but even more important work lies ahead,” Smith says in a blog post.

“Across the tech sector we need to recognise that data centers will rank by the middle of the next decade among the large users of electrical power on the planet. We need to keep working on a sustained basis to build and operate greener data centers that will serve the world well.”

Microsoft has been tracking and reducing its emissions since 2007. Smith says while the company is proud of its progress, ‘we readily recognise that even bigger steps will be needed in the future’.

“In part, this is because of the unique and increasingly important role that data centers will play in the decades ahead,” he says.

“The largest tech companies today may each consume as much electrical power as a small American state.

“There may come a point in just a few decades when we each may consumer as much power as a mid-sized nation. This creates an obvious responsibility that we need to take seriously.”

With that in mind, Microsoft says it is committed to using more clean energy every year and ‘will be mindful’ about locating data centers and other facilities in areas where renewable energy sources are readily available or can be made available during ramp-up or operational phases.

The company says it will also be pumping funds into R&D that wll lead to further improvements in the efficiency of computing infrastructure, data centers, servers and software performance.

Smith also pledged transparency with annual reporting on its total energy consumption and consumption across regions, the mix of sources for the power used, the impact of its internal carbon fee model and the investments it makes.

The company will also disclose investments in renewable energy certificate and carbon offset projects.

Recent times have seen Microsoft taking to the oceans in its efforts to find more sustainable, energy efficient data centers, with the vendor's Project Natick evaluating underwater data centers, powered by renewable ocean energy as a form of rapidly deployable, low latency, energy efficient data centers. 

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