Amazon Buys More Wind Power for Cloud Data Centers

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

By: Yevgeniy Sverdlik

Amazon Web Services, the e-commerce giant’s cloud services arm, has contracted with a wind farm developer for energy from a future 100 MW wind project in Paulding County, Ohio, to offset grid energy consumption of its cloud data centers, the company announced Thursday.

Utility-scale renewable power purchase agreements are becoming increasingly common among hyperscale data center operators like Amazon, its cloud services rivals Google and Microsoft, as well as Facebook, which does not provide cloud services but has multiple massive data centers in the US and Europe to support its user base. This year Equinix also started contracting for utility-scale renewables – something commercial data center service providers, whose customer base includes the aforementioned cloud giants, have traditionally been reluctant to do.

About one year ago, AWS made a commitment to power its operations entirely by renewable energy. The cloud provider said earlier this year that about one quarter of energy it consumed was renewable, and that its goal was to get to 40 percent renewable by the end of 2016.

Amazon’s Ohio data centers are not online yet. In a project announced earlier this year, the company is building data centers in at least three cities in the state: Dublin, New Albany, and Hilliard. It is advertising data center jobs in all three cities plus Columbus, possibly indicating plans for a data center in the state’s capital too.

Its current East Coast cloud data center cluster is in Northern Virginia, a region with one of the world’s highest concentrations of data centers.

The Ohio wind farm will be called Amazon Wind Farm US Central. Being built by EDP Renewables, it is expected to come online in May 2017.

Earlier this year, AWS announced wind and solar power purchase agreements with developers in North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia. It has also agreed to a pilot project in California to use new battery technology by Tesla for energy storage for data centers that host its us-west-1 cloud availability region. The pilot’s goal is to demonstrate an energy storage solution that can address the problem of intermittent energy generation by renewable sources.



Small Changes Could Yield Huge Energy Savings for Gaming PC’s

By Jonathan Keane

Iryna Tiumentseva/Shutterstock

Owners of gaming PCs could be sitting on some massive potential energy savings if they make a couple of changes to their rigs, according to new research from Berkeley National Laboratory.

Evan Mills, co-author of “Taming the energy use of gaming computers,” published in the journal Energy Efficiency, analyzed the aggregate global energy use of gaming PCs, based on industry benchmarking tools and found that PC gamers consume billions of dollars in electricity costs every year.

Gaming PCs only represent 2.5 percent of the world’s PCs, but make up 20 percent of PC energy use. That can cost a gamer hundreds of dollars a year to run their computer (depending on local energy prices). Mills claims that gamers can reduce their electricity bill and reduce global costs by $18 billion by 2020 by making a couple of changes to their settings and opting for greener components without sacrificing any quality or reliability.

“Your average gaming computer is like three refrigerators,” says Mills, who was spurred to investigate gaming’s energy costs when his son and co-author Nathaniel began building his own rig and found a lack of clear labeling on energy use.

Evan and Nathaniel built five gaming computers, each with more efficient component configurations to measure their energy use. They claimed they were able to achieve a 50 percent reduction in energy use without sacrificing performance. Further changes to operational settings on certain components led to further reductions, the study adds.

“When we use a computer to look at our email or tend our Facebook pages, the processor isn’t working hard at all,” says Mills. “But when you’re gaming, the processor is screaming. Plus, the power draw at that peak load is much higher and the amount of time spent in that mode is much greater than on a standard PC.”

The father and son have launched the website to provide information on energy efficient components.

According to the research, there is little information out there for gamers to make the best energy-efficient choices when they are buying or upgrading their systems. They recommend better product labeling, utility rebates, and minimum efficiency standards.



Should you buy energy-efficient appliances sooner or later?

By Marcie Geffner

The average U.S. family spends about $2,200 each year for energy costs, and the use of large appliances accounts for a hefty chunk of that total, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

That means families can save money by replacing old appliances with newer, more energy-efficient models, says Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit coalition that promotes energy efficiency.

For those on a tight budget, there are ways to cushion the cost of new appliances.

“You want to be smart and save money, you buy an energy-efficient appliance,” Callahan says.

Buy now or later?

But when should you buy an energy-efficient appliance? Is it thriftier to:

  • Replace a well-functioning appliance now with a machine that’s more efficient?
  • Wait until an appliance dies, and then replace it with something more efficient?

The short answer is that it’s complicated. A longer answer is that it’s usually better to wait until an appliance needs replacement. In the meantime, you should make the home more airtight. That’s a fast way to save money.

Cost versus savings

A new refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer, clothes dryer, water heater or other appliance is a major expense. Models that use less energy should cost less to operate than comparable models that aren’t energy-efficient.

Tie together the upfront and operating costs, and you get a conundrum: Do energy-efficient appliances save enough over time to recoup the purchase price?

With payback periods more often measured in years than months, homeowners need to do some research rather than assume the savings will or won’t be significant.

“In many instances,” Callahan says, “it will make a difference.”

Research is also essential to avoid what Callahan characterizes as “missteps” by manufacturers in the marketplace — appliances that save energy but don’t work very well.

When to buy

Generally speaking, caulking and weatherstripping a home pays back faster than new appliances, says David Arkush, director of the climate program at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

That suggests it’s probably not sensible to buy new appliances just to capture the energy savings, especially if you haven’t yet invested in air-sealing and insulation.

If your appliances are operating beyond the end of their normal life span and you’re in the market for new ones, however, Continue Reading »


How Tanzania plans to Light up a Million Homes with Solar Power

In a country where only 40% of people have access to grid electricity, the government is looking to sunshine to power health centres and homes

By: Erick Kabendera

A solar panel technician carrying out maintenance work on a corrugated roof, Miono region, Tanzania. Photograph: Tom Gilks/Alamy

Before solar panels were installed at Masaki village’s only health centre, doctors, nurses and midwives had to use dim flashlights or the glow from their cellphones to deliver babies and treat night-time emergencies.

In one case in 2010, a man arrived late after a motorcycle accident and needed a wound stitching. As the nurse began the procedure by the light of her torch, she felt a cold slithering sensation against her legs.

A large black snake was moving across the dark, cement floor. The nurse fled, leaving the patient in the dark with the snake.

The work of the centre, which is five hours drive down a dirt track from the capital Dar es Salaam and serves a population of 1.5 million people in surrounding villages, is now transformed by a two kilowatt solar array installed on the roof at a cost of $15,000 (£9,700). And the government wants many more like it.

In February, it launched its One Million Solar Homes initiative to provide the sun’s power to 1m properties by 2017. Off Grid Electric, the Tanzanian company implementing the initiative, says it will provide power to 10% of the country’s homes. Currently, only 40% have access to grid power with access particularly sparse in rural areas.

The challenge across Africa is daunting. Earlier this year, a report by Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel spelled out that excluding South Africa, which generates half the region’s electricity, sub-Saharan Africa uses less electricity than Spain. It would take the average Tanzanian eight years to use as much electricity as an average European would consume in a single month.

The report, titled Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities, called for a 10-fold increase in power generation to provide all Africans with access to electricity by 2030.

If this shortfall is made up largely with fossil fuels – particularly coal – then the impact on the world’s climate will be significant. But solar is dropping rapidly in price and starting to compete with traditional forms of energy. World Bank energy data show that it costs 20 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 20 cents for hydropower, 25c for fuel oil and 10c for coal.

Funding for the million homes initiative has come partly from the government’s Rural Energy Agency – which spends $400m a year – and international donors such as the World Bank. And in rural areas, microfinance organisations are now lending to allow householders to by solar panels. The total installation can cost up to $1,000.

“People who have small shops no longer close their shops early because they don’t have electricity. They can now operate until late at night. The availability of solar electricity has helped control immigration of people to urban areas,” says alternative energy specialist Dr Brenda Kazimili at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The government now wants all health centres and dispensaries that are not connected to the grid countrywide to be provided with solar panels.

Back at Masaki village health centre, the changes were much needed. “We’d begged for so long for solar power at this health centre. Life was unbearable here. We faced so many challenges and it was hard to work at night or do tests that required electricity,” said clinical officer Ahmed Mkamba.

“[Now] we have even installed a satellite dish to keep the health workers entertained after work. Mothers no longer have to be sent to far-away health centres to conduct simple tests and health workers don’t have to walk long distances simply to charge mobile phones.”

Health workers use the power from the solar panels (and the battery installed so that they can use the power at night) to run a computer which keeps patient records, to light the centre’s compound which covers about three or four acres of land and to operate HIV/Aids testing equipment. This means that patients no longer need to be sent to the district hospital 28km away.

And says Mkamba: “The lights keep away the snakes.”



Rooftop Solar Panels will provide 100-percent of Apple’s Power Needs

By Andy Boxall

Solar panels on top of more than eight hundred buildings in Singapore will provide Apple with all the energy it needs for its operations there, making it the first company in the region to be powered by 100-percent renewable energy. Apple has also announced it will open its first retail store in Singapore, another first for the company, and that it will only take power from the solar panels.

To make it possible, Apple has signed a deal with solar energy developer Sunseap Group, which provides rooftop solar energy farms across Singapore — a solution to ground space being at a premium on the small island.

In addition to the retail store, the solar panels will power Apple’s corporate office that’s home to 2,500 Apple employees. Sunseap has worked closely with Apple on the project, and will send a massive 40GWh of clean energy to ensure its needs are covered. Sunseap will also receive funding from Apple to continue building its solar energy farms.

Not all the energy created by the harvesting system will be sent to Apple. Reuters says 33MW of the potential 50MW — which is enough to keep 9,000 homes up and running — will be used by the company, with the remainder going to “publicly owned housing,” according to Apple’s VP of environment Lisa Jackson.

Apple’s solar-power plans in Singapore are part of its ongoing plan to power its entire business globally by renewable energy. In October, it announced clean energy programs in China — one of which involves Foxconn, makers of many Apple products — and earlier, the company said it planned to use solar energy to power its new, futuristic campus building, currently under construction in California. At the beginning of 2015, Apple confirmed plans to build two data centers in Europe that will be run on 100-percent renewable energy, and that another data center in Arizona would also be solar powered.