Commercial, Solar, Sourcing Renewables  -  September 6, 2019 - By Brian Janous, Microsoft

Building world-class sustainable datacenters and investing in solar power in Arizona

For more than a decade, Microsoft has been investing to reduce the environmental impact of our operations while striving to support the digital transformation of more and more organizations and people around the world through cloud services.

We’re working continuously to deliver scalable, highly available and resilient cloud services to more than 1 billion customers across the globe while simultaneously building and operating more efficient and sustainable datacenters that will serve the world well. We’ve made a series of commitments to increase the amount of renewable energy that power our datacenters reaching the 50% mark in 2019 and we’ll hit the 60% mark this year, both well ahead of schedule.

As we work toward our next goal of hitting 70% by 2023 – on our way to powering our datacenters with 100% renewable energy – we’re continuing to expand our global cloud infrastructure with our sustainability goals in mind. We’ve chosen Arizona as the location for the development of new world-class datacenter campuses to support the growing demand for cloud and internet services in Arizona and across the Western United States.

We intend to develop our new datacenter campuses in El Mirage and Goodyear, Arizona to be among the most sustainably designed and operated in the world – powered with 100% renewable energy. Arizona has been increasingly embracing the technology industry with a pool of growing talent, an affordable quality of life for employees, and as many 200 as sunny days a year making it an ideal location for investing in solar power.

We’re partnering with First Solar, an Arizona-based global leader in solar energy, on their Sun Streams 2 photovoltaic (PV) solar plant. The 150-megawatt plant utilizes some of the most sophisticated and eco-efficient solar technology available today, and will provide enough power to cover the energy load for each of our new datacenter campuses once the solar project is operational. The partnership also enables operating efficiencies and supports innovation in First Solar’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities through a variety of Microsoft’s intelligent cloud services, including Azure IoT Hub and SQL Data Warehouse. With this agreement, Microsoft now has renewable energy partnerships totaling nearly 1.5-gigawatts.

Our datacenter design and operations will contribute to the sustainability of our Arizona facilities. Microsoft’s datacenter designs are already more energy- and water-efficient than traditional enterprise datacenters. In Arizona, we’re also pursuing LEED Gold certification which will help conserve additional resources including energy and water, generate less waste and support human health. We’re committed to zero waste-certified operations for these new datacenters which means a minimum of  90% of waste will be diverted away from landfills through reduction, reuse and recycling efforts.

We recognize our datacenters consume more than energy, so we’re focused on efficiently utilizing, conserving and replenishing water. As a company, we have begun implementing a water replenishment strategy where we will balance what our operations consume in water-stressed regions by 2030. The advanced design of Microsoft’s datacenters means that our planned datacenters will use zero water for cooling for more than half the year. Our design uses outside air instead of water for cooling when temperatures are below 85 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures are above 85 degrees, an evaporative cooling system is used, which is similar to “swamp coolers” in residential homes. This system is highly efficient, using less electricity and a fraction of water used by other water-based cooling systems, such as cooling towers. Additionally, clean solar energy has other sustainability benefits, as it displaces the water needed in traditional process of generating electricity. First Solar estimates that energy generated from Sun Streams 2 will save as much as 356 million liters of water per year compared to traditional power generation.

We’re also looking beyond the datacenter to partnerships that can have a lasting impact on conserving and replenishing water in Arizona. Microsoft is investing in a water conservation project that helps sustain water levels in Lake Mead and will help prevent water shortage in Arizona. The effort is intended to increase Arizona’s water resiliency and help the state meet its Drought Contingency Plan Commitments. Microsoft’s investment in this project has also generated a one-to-one cash match from the Water Funder Initiative that will support the state’s efforts and further expand project impact. The project will benefit the Colorado River Indian Tribes, ultimately resulting in more water in Lake Mead and more efficient water infrastructure.

Microsoft is actively investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop these world-class datacenter campuses in Arizona. We expect they will create more than 100 permanent jobs across a variety of functions, including mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and datacenter technicians, when the facilities are fully operational, and more than 1,000 construction jobs over the initial building phases.  Once the datacenters are operating, they’re expected to have an annual economic impact of approximately $20 million across communities in Arizona.

Microsoft is committed to being a good neighbor and full participant in the Arizona community. Through our Datacenter Community Development initiative, we are actively engaged in El Mirage, Goodyear, and across Arizona. In the past year, Microsoft invested more than $800,000 on projects that deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to the state.

We’d like to thank the citizens of Arizona, our partners, and government officials, especially Gov. Doug Ducey, Mayor Georgia Lord of Goodyear, and Mayor Alexis Hermosillo of El Mirage, the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Public Service and First Solar for their collaboration to help make our vision for sustainable datacenters and increased renewable energy in Arizona possible.

This column originally appeared on Microsoft's blog.

Brian Janous, general manager, energy & sustainability, Microsoft, is responsible for leading the development and execution of Microsoft's global datacenter energy strategy. These data centers provide the foundational cloud infrastructure for Microsoft’s online and cloud services for consumers and businesses worldwide. 

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