Microsoft has a stated goal of using 50 percent renewable energy in its data centers across the U.S. by 2018, and it just took a big step forward in that plan, purchasing additional 237 megawatts of wind energy capacity.
In the process, this helps allow its Cheyenne, Wyoming, data center run entirely on wind power and brings the company’s total wind capacity to 500 megawatts across the U.S.
Microsoft has invested $750 million in its Wyoming data center, which stunned the state's governor, since Wyoming is basically about energy, agriculture and tourism. It's also a low-population state with a half-million people.
But it's strategically a good fit for Microsoft to serve the western region of the country. It's not seismically active; it's the fourth coolest state in the country, so the data center needs less cooling; and it has the lowest electricity prices in the U.S. at less than six cents per Kilowatt hour.
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Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said in a blog post that Microsoft’s data centers will get about 44 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and hydropower sources this year and will raise that to 50 percent in two years. Only about 20 megawatts comes from solar power, serving the Virginia data center.
Interestingly, Microsoft has also partnered with Black Hills Energy to act as a backup of sorts to the energy supplier. Black Hills can use Microsoft’s data center as a secondary energy producer through its backup natural gas-powered generators when demand gets too high. The data center uses natural gas for energy, which is cheaper and cleaner than coal, and Black Hills doesn't need to build another power plant.
"This is a small step toward a future where other customer-sited resources may help make the grid more efficient, reliable and capable of integrating intermittent energy sources like wind and solar," Smith wrote.