In a world that is generating evermore data, businesses are becoming increasingly energy intensive. Companies are thus seeking cleaner and cheaper ways to burn the fuels that are needed to thrive. What to do?
Internet and software giants are leading the way, setting out on a course to become greener and more efficient. Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft and SAP are all on a journey to leave as little a carbon footprint possible. And those with huge data centers and the servers needed to store their critical information, want to use more green energy to replace the fossil fuels that now power them.
And while getting cleaner is a driving factor, so too is economics, which has become more compelling. The combination of tax credits and innovative financing options have upped the business case.
“If you build a data center like Google and Apple, then you need the infrastructure that supports it to last 30-to-40 years,” says Bryan Birsic, with Wunder Capital in Boulder, in an interview. “I would like to think that the carbon change has something to do with it. But it is economic: solar is getting 10 percent cheaper each year and companies are saving money every year.”
Some corporations are pretty far along, including chipmaker Intel, which already meets all of its energy needs with renewable power and is No. 1 in renewable power, according to a list previously released by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
As for Google, it has invested in solar plants while also buying green energy credits from utilities — a guarantee for those power companies, allowing them to make investments in renewable energy. About 860 utilities offer green power programs to their customers, says the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Facebook is taking similar steps by fueling an Iowa-based data center with wind energy. Meanwhile, Microsoft is buying wind energy through a 20-year power purchase agreement in Texas. And Apple has a goal of powering most of its facilities using solar, wind or hydro. Finally, software maker SAP says that its aim to buy all of its green power through utility-offered credits.
“Energy intensive businesses are cutting their bills,” says Birsic.
To be sure, skeptics are making two general points. That is, those web and social media enterprises would not proceed unless generous tax breaks or subsidies were offered, and their green facilities will still need back up power consisting of natural gas. Google, for instance, has accessed the 30-percent tax credit offering by the government in the form of up-front cash.
The debate will continue to rage. But the investments made by the Internet giants and the software makers will help them meet their environmental goals while providing an assist to other enterprises that want to do the same.