Today Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a solar farm project in Virginia that will advance the company’s progress towards its recent commitment to powering its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy.
Greenpeace, the advocacy group leading the public pressure on Amazon and other tech companies to switch to renewable energy, reacted with cautious optimism.
“Amazon’s solar deal in Virginia is an encouraging sign that the company is making progress on its pledge to power its data centers with 100 percent renewable energy, and is welcome news for Amazon’s customers that have urged the company to move faster in its adoption of renewable energy,” said Greenpeace Senior Energy Campaigner, David Pomerantz. “But Amazon customers still need better transparency to properly assess the significance of this solar deal.”
While the project is expected to generate 170,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of solar power annually (the equivalent of powering approximately 15,000 U.S. homes), this represents a very small portion of the renewable energy needed to fully supply AWS’ data centers in Virginia. Greenpeace estimates the new solar deal will increase the Virginia data centers’ use of renewable energy from 2 percent to 6 percent. While tripling is significant, the low numbers reveal that AWS has a long way to go before reaching its goal of 100 percent.
“Amazon has not disclosed how much energy its data centers consume in Virginia or anywhere else,” Pomerantz said. “While this new deal is significant, it appears to provide only a small fraction of the electricity Amazon is consuming in Virginia, where it is growing rapidly.”
AWS customers including Tumblr, The Huffington Post and Hootsuite recently wrote a letter urging the company to commit to transparency on its energy and environmental performance. Their demands included publishing information on Amazon’s progress towards its renewable energy goals, such as the resource mix it uses in each of its regions.
While AWS has not responded directly, the company announced in April that approximately 25 percentof the power consumed by its global infrastructure comes from renewable energy sources, with an interim goal of increasing that percentage to at least 40 percent by the end of 2016.
AWS’ goal to source 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources does not have a specific timeline for completion, but VP of Infrastructure Jerry Hunter says the latest project in Virginia is a sign of progress, and provides additional benefits for the community.
“We continue to make significant progress towards our long-term commitment to power the global AWS infrastructure with 100 percent renewable energy,” he said. “Amazon Solar Farm US East – the second Power Purchase Agreement that will serve both existing and planned AWS datacenters in the central and eastern US – has the added benefit of working to increase the availability of renewable energy in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Greenpeace says it will continue to monitor AWS’ energy sourcing, updating its annual Clicking Clean assessment of tech company footprints later this summer.