Microsoft is building a data center next to a Wyoming landfill in order to use its methane gas to power the facility. Apple now uses a massive 100-acre solar energy farm to power its Maiden, N.C. data center. And Google has placed data centers in Oklahoma and Iowa so they can plug into wind farms.
America's top tech companies are going green in a big way, so much so that the availability of clean energy resources is now a key consideration in where they locate corporate offices and data centers. The move is designed to save them millions of dollars in long-term energy costs.
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"We believe energy is the future of our business," said Josh Henretig, director of environmental sustainability at Microsoft.
"Microsoft has increasingly transitioned from a software company to a services and devices company," said Henretig. "The services are largely based on our need for cloud [infrastructures] and, in turn, the energy that those clouds and data centers use. So we are absolutely focused on the role energy plays in our organization longer term."
Massive renewable growth
Over the past six years, the growth in wind farm deployments in the U.S. has been second only to gas-powered electrical plants. According to the latest data, 6.8 gigawatts of wind power was added in the U.S. in 2011, a 31 percent increase over 2010. That 2011 jump brought the cumulative wind power capacity for the U.S. to 47 gigawatts, according to a study published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The latest data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows that the U.S. now has over 6.4 gigawatts of installed solar electric capacity, enough power for more than a million households. And, while the numbers aren't in yet, 2012 was expected to be a record year for more growth, according to the SEIA.
Dan Shugar, an SEIA board member, said that when he first entered the solar energy industry 25 years ago as an electrical engineer, the world's collective solar arrays produced only about .03 gigawatts of power. Today, they produce 30 gigawatts (a gigawatt is a billion watts). "That's a 1,000 times increase over my career. It's unstoppable," Shugar said.
The list of companies using and deploying renewable energy resources includes Intel, Kohl's, Staples, Wal-Mart, Ikea, McDonalds, Walgreens, Macy's, FedEx, Toyota, and Lockheed Martin, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A greener Google
In 2011, the EPA awarded Google the Green Power Partner of the year award. Google has pledged to reduce its carbon footprint to zero through energy efficiency and by purchasing carbon-free renewable electricity to power its data centers and corporate facilities. Currently, a third of Google's energy consumption comes from renewable energy -- 13 percent from utility companies and the remaining 20 percent from wind and solar facilities owned by Google or a third party owns.