August 1, 2021

To ensure a 100 percent use of renewable energy in data centers, companies need to move to PPAs and hourly renewables matching

2 min read

Most of the world’s population is now using the internet for most of the day. Businesses and large corporations have taken their operations online. Besides, more people are coming online, and internet traffic is expanding, creating a greater need for energy in data centers. Therefore, using renewable energy in data companies is crucial, being one of the largest energy consumers. Ensuring the shift to clean energy is a hundred percent is critical.

Most data centers use renewable energy certificates (RECs) to show the sustainability of their energy consumption. These certificates cannot credibly show that data companies are using a hundred percent renewable energy. This is where power purchase agreements (PPAs) come in. Although they pose financial risks, PPAs better prove that a data center uses renewable power for its operations. Firms need to measure and report how much of their electricity comes from renewable sources and non-renewable sources. By tracking down these values, an organization can decide how to offset carbon emissions and how much green energy is required to match the demands.

This information can be accessed from the electricity suppliers, or grid-level emissions factors can determine the green energy used. For instance, the US Energy Information Administration provides a detailed report on how companies use electricity every year. After knowing the renewable energy used and the carbon emitted, the next step is to offset this value using appropriate products to mitigate greenhouse gases’ effects. Offsets are reserved for irreducible emissions. If firms could avoid the emissions, they need to switch a hundred percent to green energy.

More companies realize the importance of carbon footprint measurement and reporting. For instance, Apple and Microsoft require their suppliers to report on carbon footprint as the two target zero-emission goals by 2030. Data centers shift to a hundred percent renewable use can only be proved using PPAs. RECs are not convincing enough. However, even PPAs are not sufficient on their own. Combining a physical PPA with a local renewable energy producer with a valid REC is the best approach to ensuring data centers use a hundred percent renewable energy in their operations.

The ultimate proof would be using hourly renewables matching since physical PPAs only indicates a certain amount of energy was added to the grid. But with matching the renewable energy purchased against energy used. For instance, a data center could procure energy from both a wind energy source and a solar energy source. The two will augment each other such that at night when the sun is not shining, wind energy will generate power.

Microsoft and Google have adopted the 24/7 hourly matching to ensure a hundred percent transition to renewable energy. In 2019, Microsoft joined hands with Vattenfall to create a new product to provide hourly green energy matching.

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