Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Monday, November 19, 2018
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Facebook Datacenters Nearing Green Energy Goal 

Hyperscale datacenter operators continue to strive for energy efficiency as most struggle to keep pace with more demanding workloads. Progress is being reported on at least one front: Facebook said this week it has met its renewable energy goals for datacenters a year ahead of schedule.

The embattled social media giant (NASDAQ: FB) said it surpassed its 50-percent renewable energy goal for powering its datacenters a year early. It now hopes to convert all its datacenter operations to renewable energy sources by 2020, the company announced Tuesday (Aug. 28).

Facebook’s initial renewable energy goal was established in 2015 as it and other hyper-scalers switched to wind, solar and other renewables. With datacenters operating on the grid as wind and solar projects, Facebook said it has signed contracts for more than 3 gigawatts of power generated by solar and wind energy sources. That total includes more than 2,500 megawatts in the last year, the company noted. (Note that early this year, public cloud services industry leader AWS announced it had achieved 50 percent renewable energy data center usage.)

The current datacenter plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Facebook datacenters by 75 percent between now and 2020. By then, the company expects its global operations to be fully powered by renewable energy.

Environmental groups praised the sustainability effort. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “has reaffirmed Facebook’s place among business leaders in the race to be coal-free and 100-percent renewable-powered,” said Gary Cook of Greenpeace.

“If we are to stay within the 1.5-degree threshold that scientists say is crucial to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need many more companies stepping up to adopt aggressive renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals,” Cook added.

Beginning with its first datacenter in Prineville, Ore., Facebook has focused on redesigning components from servers to cooling systems to boost energy efficiency. It claimed the Oregon facility used 38 percent less power and 80 percent less water than traditional datacenters.

Indeed, industry groups report that datacenter operators continue to make significant strides in energy efficiency despite handling more and more complex workloads. An annual report released earlier this month by the Uptime Institute found that the standard metric used to gauge datacenter energy efficiency, “power usage effectiveness,” or PUE, reached a record low of 1.58 in the last year.

Facebook and others continue to strive for a PUE rating of between 1.2 and 1.5.

Nevertheless, power outages remain a leading cause of datacenter downtime. The industry group reported that the number of datacenter outages is increasing, which is fueling the growth of distributed infrastructure to promote resiliency.

As datacenter operators like Facebook continue to shift to renewable energy sources, greater emphasis will be placed on battery and other energy storage technologies to be utilized after sunset or when the wind does not blow.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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