Creating an internet powered by 100 percent renewable energy

In 2015, data center operations were estimated to account for 1% of global energy consumption —and this proportion is expected to grow by 3% as data centre workloads triple. In 2012, BSR brought tech leaders together to form the Future of Internet Power, a collaborative initiative working toward a shared vision: an internet powered by 100 percent renewable energy. 

The Challenge 

While the thriving technology sector provides significant business and social benefits—many of which help to reduce negative environmental impacts—data centers are energy intensive. In 2010, data centers represented 2 percent of all U.S. electricity use, and that percentage is unlikely to decrease, given our increasing reliance on mobile and internet communications. 

Today, internet companies and data center operators are addressing their impacts by considering the source of the electricity that powers their data centers, which is often a mix of renewables, natural gas, and coal. Moving beyond incremental improvements in the energy mix requires access to and use of sustainable, low-carbon electricity at scale. To make this a reality, companies will need to both collaborate across the industry and partner with local utilities and policymakers to develop the infrastructure and promote the regulations that will enable renewable energy procurement for internet power. 

Our Strategy 

In 2012, BSR launched the Future of Internet Power (FoIP), a collaborative initiative composed of some of the world’s most influential companies working to power the internet with 100 percent renewable energy. Today, FoIP members include Adobe, Akamai, Autodesk, Bank of America, eBay, Facebook, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Salesforce, Symantec, TimeWarner, VMware, and Workday. 

For internet companies, powering data centers with renewable energy can require clearing a number of hurdles: navigating regional environmental policies and incentives, in some cases paying cost premiums for renewable versus coal power, and addressing challenging infrastructure requirements for offsite power generation. These and other factors make sourcing low-carbon power difficult for individual companies to manage alone. Through FoIP, companies collaborate with peers, suppliers, and power developers to build smarter approaches and identify opportunities for shared or joint investment. 

Our Outcomes and Impact 

FoIP has played a foundational role in helping the technology sector set aggressive and achievable commitments to renewable energy. As of April 2018, nine FoIP members had committed to 100 percent renewable energy: Adobe, Autodesk, Bank of America, eBay, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Facebook, Salesforce, VMware, and Workday. 

FoIP also launched the Corporate Colocation and Cloud Buyers’ Principles, which outline six criteria that companies would like their data center service providers to meet. This includes providing data on customer energy consumption, disclosing facility energy sources, and supporting renewable energy advocacy. As of early 2018, 17 customers of industrial data center service providers (also known as “colos”) and cloud services became signatories, demonstrating their support for the six Principles, and four cloud and colo providers became Principles supporters, committing to work with their customers to put the Principles into practice. 

In 2018, FoIP’s focus will be on finalizing and rolling out new tools for companies choosing renewables when making data-center siting decisions, encouraging colos to procure renewables, streamlining and standardizing the documentation required to make data-center-related renewable energy claims, and continuing to collaboratively tackle greenhouse gas accounting challenges in Scope 3 emissions. 

Lessons Learned 

In addition to sharing best practices and collaborating on solutions through FoIP, BSR’s one-on-one work with companies creates a model that we can customize for other businesses to develop and manage renewable energy infrastructure projects. 

We have learned that big challenges like these require collaborative solutions. Building on the FoIP approach, we have been able to expand the group’s mission by working through other partnerships, including the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, a collaboration with the World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund Buyers' Principles initiative, and the Rocky Mountain Institute's Business Renewables Center. By working together, we can scale our impact even more, while making it easier and more efficient for businesses to help shift the energy mix powering the internet toward renewables.

Join the discussion on #techUKgreenweek and #GreenGB. To see more blogs like this, please visit the website here.

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