While there have been quite a few headlines in the last day about Facebook’s wind-powered datacenter, it is important to drill down a bit to get past the hyperbole.
There is no realistic way to directly power a datacenter with wind alone. In order to level out the power so that demand and availability meet, it would be necessary to take quite a few steps to store energy at the facility to smooth out the power provision curve.
On a smaller scale, facilities that rely 100 percent on wind or solar power generally use banks of batteries to provide a steady supply of power, with the wind turbine or solar panels keeping the batteries charged. While this can be a practical solution for a small building or home off of the power grid, it is unrealistic for a datacenter.
And Facebook’s new facility will not be dependent on wind power in any way.
What Facebook has done for their new facility in Iowa is work with the local power utility to have them build a 138 MW wind farm nearby. Despite the proximity, the wind farm will not feed the datacenter; rather the datacenter will draw power from the same grid that the wind farm will feed into. Facebook’s goal is to power the datacenter with 100 percent renewable energy; the company will be making use of the EPA’s renewable energy certificates program, as they have apparently retained the REC rights to the wind farm project.
One REC is created for every 1000 kWh created by the renewable energy source. It is these certificates that Facebook will use to offset and measure the energy requirements of the new datacenter. RECs can only be used once and if they are sold, no longer count as green energy. They do provide a number of green attributes to their creators/users.
So even though there is a lot of smoke and mirrors to the entire green energy business, in this case Facebook is making the most realistic attempt possible to provide a renewable power infrastructure for their datacenters.