As part of our sustainability month we're taking a look at all manner of renewable energy and green solutions. Whether it be reviewing electric cars, diving deep on gadgets that help reduce our excess power usage or solar energy.
One hugely important service we all use is 'the cloud'. Unlike the name suggests, this isn't just some distant magic place that stores all of our photos, tweets and videos. Whether it's Facebook, Disney+ or TikTok, all of that data is held in a giant building full of servers and physical storage drives. All of that requires a lot of power to run and to keep cool. So how's it all powered?
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Without doubt, AWS is the biggest provider of cloud storage and servers, and it serves some of the most well known and popular streaming services. All your movies and TV shows on Netflix take up space on Amazon's servers, as do your Spotify albums and songs. It has other big name clients too, like SoundCloud, WeTransfer, Adobe, Disney, Reddit, Pinterest and so many others.
There's a good chance that if you're streaming or using an online service, those capabilities are powered by AWS. But where does its power come from?
One of the biggest challenges facing a cloud server operation this size is keeping it sustainable. But Amazon is making moves on that front, and has already made some pretty big strides to reducing its impact on the planet.
At the end of 2018 - the last available update - Amazon states that more than 50 per cent of the power consumed by AWS was provided by renewable sources. And it aims to get that up to 100 per cent by 2030. So how's it doing it?
Wind and solar farms
As is usually the case, Amazon's renewable energy for its massive AWS servers come from wind and solar. While it's already managed to hit the 50 per cent mark, over the course of 2019 and 2020 it announced several new projects across the world to build out its wind and solar projects.
Most recently, in March 2020 it announced plans to build its first solar farm in Australia, which will come online in 2021 in New South Wales and offer a total of 142,000MWh of energy each year (enough to power 23,000 homes). At the same time it announced plans for an onshore wind farm in Västernorrland, Sweden and solar farm in Zaragoza, Spain.
This is on top of the several wind and solar farms already either active or in development. It has two wind farms in development in Ireland (Cork and Donegal), plus another in Bäckhammar, Sweden. That's not mentioning the projects already active and planned in the US, which include both wind and solar, mostly in Virginia, but with a few dotted around other places like Ohio, Indiana, Texas and California.
With all of the recent announcements, Amazon states that it supplies energy to the grids where its data centres are connected.
When iCloud first launched, Apple made a big deal about that fact that it had also built massive solar farms alongside the data centre where all the iCloud magic happens. Apple's servers might not be close to the same scale as Amazon's AWS, but Apple is as committed as ever to renewable energy.
As a business, Apple announced in 2018 that was now 100 per cent powered by renewable energy. That means its suppliers have committed to clean energy production, and it has invested in yet more solar farms across the world.
At the time of this update, Apple had 25 operational energy projects offering 626 megawatts of generation capacity between them. That includes the data centres, which have been 100 per cent renewable energy powered since 2014.
Yep. Facebook has lots of data centres that need lots of power too. Given just how much is shared on its site and services like Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, that's no surprise.
Its site showing current and planned renewable energy projects shows that it has a number of different solar and wind farms across the globe to power its 15 data centres. In 2018, 75 per cent of its power usage was supplied by renewable sources.
It has 36 solar farms either built or in development (mostly in the US), with 11 wind farms which includes one in Ireland and another in Norway. It even has a waste heat recovery system in place in Odense, Denmark to capture wasted heat and turn that into energy which the local community can use for heat.
It's clear progress is being made in the cloud storage industry, and - in fact - the cloud revolution started at a similar time as sustainable electricity started becoming more commonplace. So while we're not at a place where all of our cloud usage is being powered by sustainable sources, there's no denying we're well on our way and it's comforting to know some of the world's biggest companies are working hard to get their huge storage centres running entirely on wind and solar power.