By: +David Herron; Date: February 14, 2019
The big issue with data centers is the extremely concentrated electricity consumption. A data center is basically a building stuffed with as many computers as possible. Each of those computers, plus ancillary equipment, require electricity to not only run the equipment but the air conditioners to keep everything cool.
According to the Greenpeace 'Click Clean Virginia report, the data centers in Loudoun County consume about 4.6 gigaWatts of electricity, and Amazon's AWS data centers in Northern Virginia consume about 1.7 gigaWatts of electricity. That's more than enough to send Marty McFly back to 1955, or more accurately this is more than 3 coal-fired power plants just for the AWS data centers.
For whatever reason, Northern Virginia became the primary hub for Internet traffic. Loudoun County reckons it handles perhaps 70% of the worlds Internet traffic, thanks to these data centers. The data centers can be organized into one of four classifications:
- Internet giants who operate their own data center facilities -- such as Facebook and Google
- Cloud hosting services offered to other companies, like Amazon's AWS, Google's Compute Engine service, and Microsoft's Azure
- Colocation data centers, that rent data center space to other companies (e.g. Digital Realty, Equinix, RagingWire)
- Government data centers
Most of the Tech Giants, including Amazon, have made commitments to source 100% renewable energy to drive their data centers. While some, like Facebook and Google, have made progress on this front, Amazon has completely failed.
According to Greenpeace, utility companies do respond when their customers demand renewable energy. Amazon's AWS is Dominion's largest customer.
In response to the data centers in its service territory, Dominion is proposing to build a natural gas pipeline. It would bring fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to areas in Virginia and North Carolina. If that path is followed, the whole area will be locked into natural gas which is a fossil fuel and therefore contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
The Greenpeace 'Click Clean Virginia report isn't a hit job focusing solely on Amazon. Instead it documents a large portion of the data centers located in the Loudoun County area, and the potential for renewable energy in that vicinity.