Facebook’s newest data center in Altoona, Iowa, will run off of 100 percent wind energy, as tracked through renewable energy credits, when it starts serving the social network’s online traffic in early 2015, according to a company news release. Facebook plans to purchase electricity for the facility from a nearby wind farm in Wellsburg, Iowa.
The wind project that will power the Altoona data center is currently under construction and is expected to become operational in 2014. Once finished, it will have the capacity to generate 138 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power more than 300 homes for an entire year.
But Facebook won’t build, own or operate the wind farm itself. Instead it will pay one of Iowa’s major utilities, MidAmerican Energy, for the wind power and rack up enough renewable energy credits to qualify the data center as carbon neutral.
It’s important to note that the Altoona data center won’t actually use 100 percent wind power. Wind power isn’t reliable since the wind doesn’t blow all the time. If Facebook completely switched to renewable power it wouldn’t be able to supply the consistent flow of data required by its website.
The 100 percent wind power comes from Facebook’s claim to renewable energy credits from the wind farm, which essentially allows the company to offset its energy consumption. All the wind energy produced at the Wellsburg wind farm will be fed directly to the grid, where it will mix with fossil fuel-generated energy before it’s delivered to the Facebook data center.
The announcement is the latest push from the social media giant to improve its environmental impact. Facebook says it’s committed to reaching 25 percent clean and renewable energy in its global data center mix by 2015.
The Wellsburg wind farm will supply more energy than the Altoona data center actually needs to operate. And it won’t be the first Facebook data center to go completely renewable. In June, the company opened a facility in Lulea, Sweden, that runs completely off of hydroelectric power. It says the supply is so reliable that it’s been able to reduce its dependency on back-up generators by 70 percent.
Creating greener data centers has been a growing trend among the top Internet companies. For example, Google has worked to make its data centers more eco-friendly by powering its global operations with 34 percent renewable energy and making efficiency improvements to its equipment. And Amazon says two of its cloud computing regions, Oregon and GovCloud, use 100 percent carbon-free power, though the company is criticized by Greenpeace for not being transparent about where the power actually comes from.
Facebook said it chose the Iowa location for its new data center because of the potential the state has for wind energy. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Iowa has the potential to produce 570,000 megawatts of wind power.
After Facebook decided to build its newest data center in Iowa, the social media company entered into a partnership with wind farm developer RPM Access to construct a wind farm that would power the Altoona data center. However, Facebook transferred its rights to the development to MidAmerican Energy in the spring of 2013. And RPM Access sold its rights to the utility along with another 117 MW development in Macksburg, Iowa.
In addition to the wind farms in Wellsburg and Macksburg, MidAmerican Energy plans to develop three more wind projects. Together, these facilities will help the utility generate 1,050 MW of renewable energy—the largest expansion of wind generation in Iowa’s history, according to the utility. MidAmerican expects to complete these projects and get renewable energy on the Iowa grid by 2015.
Article by Brittany Williams, a Copywriter for SaveOnEnergy.com. In her role, she covers controversial topics, explores renewable energy options and shares her knowledge to help others minimize their electricity bills, and in turn their carbon footprints.