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Facebook Turns to a Little Solar for Its Data Center

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Updated. Turns out social network giant Facebook has been eying clean power after all for its new data center in Oregon. Well, a very small amount of solar compared to the sizable power needs of its data center. According to Data Center Knowledge, Facebook has built a 100 kW solar panel array — which will produce 204,000 kilowatt-hours of solar power per year — next to its data center. The solar system will provide power for some of the facility’s office rooms, but not power for the rooms that house the servers themselves.

What you need to know is that a 100 kW system, generating 204,000 kWh per year, is a fraction of the amount of power that a 300,000 square foot data center facility would commonly use. For comparison’s sake (these aren’t apples to apples, but just to give you an indicator) according to a 2009a MIT study, 16,000 servers used by eBay (s EBAY) are thought to use 60,000 MWh per year. Forty thousand servers used by Akamai (s AKAM) are thought to use 170,000 MWh per year. For those that forget physics class, 1 megawatt (MW) is 1,000 kilowatts (kW).

But small as it is, Facebook’s move suggests a couple of things to me. First, Facebook is ready to take baby steps into clean power and explore the types of deals and contracts needed to add in renewable energy outside of a utility. Facebook built its data center in Oregon in the footprint of utility Pacific Power that largely derives its electricity from coal, which is why Facebook is now the focus of Greenpeace’s media campaign, “Facebook Unfriend Coal.” That campaign looks like it generated a Guinness World Record for how many comments a single Facebook post has received in a 24-hour period.

Facebook could add in much more solar capacity to this facility or others, and now has learned a little something about sourcing these clean power deals. For any future data center projects, Facebook could also use this knowledge to work with clean power developers in advance of construction on much larger projects, as the anchor tenant, in the way that Google (s GOOG) or Sprint (s s) has done.

Beyond education, part of what Greenpeace is asking for in its campaign is leadership and some sort of commitment to move toward clean energy. In a blog post on Friday, Greenpeace said: “Through some combination of  direct on-site installation and investment in clean energy development (a la Google), Facebook should set a target to use more renewable energy to power its data center, and use its bulk purchasing power to work with Pacific Power on getting more renewable energy onto the grid.” Well, one (albeit small) part of that challenge has been met.

I reached out to Greenpeace and will update this post with their thoughts. My guess is this move will be nowhere close enough to what Greenpeace wants. Another lesson: These types of media campaigns can be particularly effective, and it seems to have worked in some small way with Facebook.

Update: Greenpeace called Facebook’s solar array “another encouraging sign that Facebook is beginning to look at both sides of the clean energy equation, which requires both energy efficiency AND clean sources of electricity,” in an email to me. Greenpeace also says:

Hopefully this initial investment in renewable energy will quickly translate into a bigger commitment to power Facebook with clean energy and move away from coal and other dirty sources of electricity. This should include both “behind the meter” renewables as they started with the solar array in Prineville, combined with much larger bulk purchases of renewable electricity from local utilities and third-party renewable energy developers, much as Google has recently done in Iowa, and expect to see other companies follow suit in the near future.

Greenpeace plans to launch a report at our Green:Net event this Thursday called “How Dirty Is Your Data?” which it explains as examining the “energy choices of Facebook and its IT peers.” At Green:Net, Google and Yahoo (s yhoo) will discuss their green data center plans. Register for our awesome event here.

The solar panels for Facebook’s solar project were reportedly produced by Oregon’s own SolarWorld; the project was developed by Sunlight Solar Energy; and the trackers for the panels (which move the panels throughout the day to follow the movement of the sun) were made by local manufacturer PV Trackers. Data Center Knowledge’s Rich Miller took this photo of the array.

2 Responses to “Facebook Turns to a Little Solar for Its Data Center”

  1. FREEPAT75014

    Without adhequate Power Storage, solar energy is just useless for a datacenter, and more generally for the Grid, just as wind energy by the way. This is because they are “intermittant” by nature, while systems and the Grid in general, require secured steady power sources to function properly.
    No way to stop your thousands of Server nodes in seconds and stop responding to WEB users in the meantime, each time a bad cloud is passing above your solar roof. Without Storage Solar and Wind energies are only parasite energies that nobody can rely on. Since it takes various amounts of times to put back into production a Gaz or Nuclear Power plant portion, at the end without Energy Storage today nonbody can turn down any traditional power Generation unit when green power is on, since nobody can rely on it, means that green power is just wasted today, without appropriate storage.
    …But tomorrow, with appropriate Energy Storage, green Energy can replace all others, once made a relyable source of energy along with all others. Just need to find and cost reduce such large scale electrical storage ASAP, to make them prevalent for tomorrow. Hoping after adding the extra costs for this storage that only these green energies require (Solar and Wind, not all)the cost per MWH of energy will not become totally un-competitive, and the pollution denerating for building then disposing both the Solar Pannels or wind farms, and their required Energy Storage, will not overcome all benefits vs Nuclear power and Fossil Fuels.
    Forcing Facebook implement green energy before appropriate storage is available, is a terrorist action that will damadge the Grid for all the neighbourhood where Facebook datacenters are located. That’s why I’ll never give 1$ to Greenpeace. They put adventising of themselves ahead of the real benefits of anything they defend. Their only chance is nobody criticizes what they juggest with the same efficiency as they criticize the others with the help of the medias.