Microsoft's green plan: Our data centers will run on 60% renewable energy by 2020

Microsoft sets new environmental targets and doubles its internal carbon tax.

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Microsoft says at the end of 2018 half the power used by its data centers came from renewable energy and it should hit 60 percent by the end of 2019. 

With the 60 percent milestone in sight, the company is now targeting over 70 percent renewable energy for its data centers by 2023.

Microsoft is aiming to cut its carbon emissions by 75 percent by 2030 and as part of that effort has raised its internal carbon 'tax' to $15 per metric ton on all carbon emissions, which is nearly double the current rate for carbon emissions, according to Microsoft president Brad Smith. 

Microsoft has had a carbon tax in place since 2012 that puts the burden on business divisions financially to cut their own carbon emissions. 

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The higher fee comes amidst Microsoft's massive revamp of its Redmond campus, where it's tearing down old buildings and constructing 17 modernized structures across 2.5 million square feet. The new buildings, including existing ones, will not use fossil fuels and will run on totally carbon-free electricity.

Additionally, it's cutting the carbon stemming from construction materials used in the big campus rebuild by at least 15 percent with a goal to reduce carbon by 30 percent. 

"Combined with our smart building technology, Microsoft will be the first large corporate campus to reach zero-carbon and zero-waste goals," Smith said.   

Microsoft's new renewable targets follow Apple's announcement last week that 44 suppliers have now signed up to the Supplier Clean Energy Program. Apple claimed to be operating on 100 percent renewable sources in 2018 and is trying to clean up its entire supply chain, too. 

Google last year began purchasing more energy from wind and solar farms than the electricity its global operations use. And Amazon Web Services last week announced three new wind farms in Ireland, Sweden, and the US, which will bring its renewable projects to a total of 12 when they're complete. 

Amazon reached a 50 percent renewable energy target in 2018 and is aiming for 100 percent. However, over 6,000 staff have signed a petition published this week, calling on Amazon's leadership to put a date on that goal.   

As part of Microsoft's ambition to go 100 percent on renewable energy, Microsoft today announced a five-year hydropower supply agreement with Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington state. 

The two firms have also signed a memorandum of understanding to improve broadband availability in rural parts of Chelan County. 

The software and cloud giant is also negotiating a contract to purchase the output of a new Washington state wind or solar resource, which should be up and running in the next five years. 

Smith said Microsoft will also launch a "data-driven circular cloud initiative" that will use IoT sensors, blockchain, and AI to "monitor performance and streamline our reuse, resale and recycling of data-center assets, including servers".

The mission extends to water usage too, with the company launching a water replenishment strategy where it replaces what its operations consume in water-stressed regions by 2030. 

The Azure cloud is also playing a role in Microsoft's environmental objectives around improving environmental research through data science. 

The company has promised to host "the world's leading environmental data science sets on Azure". That will mean storing petabytes of government datasets containing satellite and aerial imagery.  

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