August 31, 2016
Social media platforms are connecting people around the world like never before, and the infrastructure supporting them requires energy—and a lot of it. In fact, in 2015, Facebook’s data centers, full of servers running all day, every day, used 1.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power a small city.
Facebook believes it’s their responsibility to power connectivity with the smallest footprint possible. By 2018, their goal is to derive half of the energy used to power data centers from wind, solar, and other renewable resources. And to maximize their impact, they openly share what they figure out and collaborate across industries.
“We spend a lot of time working to make our data center operations more efficient—from the building and cooling to compute and storage—and then we open source our efficient hardware solutions through the OCP [Open Compute Project],” Facebook’s Director of Sustainability, Hertz Fellow Bill Weihl said. “Since we started deploying OCP gear and designs in our data centers, we estimate that we’ve saved enough electricity to power nearly 127,000 homes for a year.”
Facebook is a member of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), one of four NGOs leading the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA). The coalition of 60 companies, including Facebook, is committed to greening the grid for all, and REBA aims to help facilitate and deploy 60 GWs of new corporate renewable energy in the United States by 2025.
Powering facilities with renewables—such as wind, hydro, and solar—is important to greening the grid, Weihl said. But in reality, it’s extremely difficult to secure renewable solutions due to intermittency and other factors. REBA is working across customers, energy suppliers, and policymakers to identify barriers to buying renewable energy and then develop solutions that meet rapidly growing corporate demand.
"We need to develop more new sources of renewable energy, and we need to make it easier for companies of all kinds to use renewable energy,” Weihl said. “We know from our experience with initiatives like the OCP that openness and collaboration help everyone move faster, and we're excited to work with the other founding members of REBA to help green the grid. Together we will all have a much greater impact."
Thanks in large part to the efforts of the four NGOs making up REBA in helping to increase demand for wind and solar and driving the costs for renewables down, Weihl said, renewable energy usage by companies has increased exponentially over the last five years. An increasing number of companies are signing their own contracts with energy producers and utilities, which Weihl hopes will become the new normal.
“Ten years from now, I’d like to see that this is just a standard business practice,” Weihl said. “Not just because it’s better for the environment, but because the most cost-effective way of doing business will be to buy clean energy. What we’re trying to do is make that happen as quickly as possible.”
In 2009, Weihl, a former MIT computer science professor, transitioned to climate change and energy efficiency issues at Google. In 2012, he began his work at Facebook, where the company set a goal to use 25 percent of its energy from clean sources by 2015. Facebook not only met that goal, they surpassed it, reporting 35 percent of their energy last year coming from renewables. The team has set a new goal of 50 percent by 2018, and eventually wants all of Facebook’s energy to be clean, with the timeline dependent on market conditions.