Amazon Web Services commits to 100% renewable energy in potential breakthrough

by David Pomerantz

November 19, 2014

The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates flies over Facebook headquarters with a banners reading "Building a Greener Internet" and "Who's The Next To Go Green?" Apple, Facebook and Google have committed to powering their data centers with renewable energy, and Greenpeace is challenging other tech companies (Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and Pinterest) to join them.

© George Nikitin / Greenpeace

Hundreds of thousands of people have asked Amazon.com to join Google, Apple, Facebook and other tech companies to lead the way to building us a green Internet, powered 100% by renewable energy.

We’reexcited to say that Amazons CEO, Jeff Bezos, seems to be getting the message. Yesterday, Amazon Web Services updated its sustainability web page with a note that the company “has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint.”

The statement represents a potential breakthrough in the effort to build a green Internet.

Amazon Web Services, a division of Amazon.com, is the worlds largest public cloud computing company. When you stream movies through Netflix, peruse photos on Pinterest, read reviews on Yelp, book a place on AirBnB, or post a link on Reddit: all of that data is being shuttled and stored in data centers owned and operated by Amazon Web Services. According to one 2012 study, one third of all Internet users visit a web site based on Amazons infrastructure every day.

Amazons data centers consume massive amounts of electricity, and theyre proliferating incredibly quickly, which is why todays news is so crucial and promising. A renewably powered Amazon Web Services could be a catalyst for clean energy growth around the world, a hero in the effort to build the modern economy, powered by 100% renewable energy, that is so urgently needed to address climate change.

However, Amazons customers will need more information so that we can trust that AWS means business when it says it is committing to renewable energy.

AWS should offer a plan for how it will implement its ambitious new commitment across its footprint. Apple, Facebook and Google, three of Amazons peers and rivals, all have laid out road maps that explain how they intend to achieve their goals of procuring 100% renewable energy.

Amazon has not offered that kind of road map yet, and it has some work to do to catch up. As an example of putting its money where its mouth is, Google announced just yesterday that it has inked another renewable energy deal, its eighth such purchase, to power its most recent data center in Eemshaven, Netherlands, via electricity from a new wind farm just 20 km away. The purchase ensures that the facility will be 100% renewably powered when it opens in 2016.

To show its customers that Amazon is ready to take the lead in the race to build the green Internet, it needs to explain how it will address three critical issues:

1) Transparency:

Other Internet companies have included ongoing transparency as a critical aspect of their commitment to renewable energy, but transparency has been one of Amazon’s weakest areas. Amazon should begin by providing a detailed snapshot of its energy and greenhouse gas footprint, and committing to providing regular updates as it changes.

2) Dirty US-East:

Roughly half of AWS servers are based in its US-East region in Virginia, where the local utility (Dominion Power) provides only 2% of its electricity from renewable sources, compared to 37% from coal, 41% from nuclear and 20% from gas. (You can see Dominions energy mix by downloading this document from the company and skipping to page 79) But as Google, Facebook and Apple demonstrated in neighboring North Carolina, IT companies can demand that dirty utilities provide renewable energy for their biggest and fastest growing customers. Apple, Facebook and Google teamed up to push the utility there, Duke Energy, to offer more renewable energy. Amazon has the opportunity to lead a similar effort in Virginia.

3) Guiding Principles:

As Amazon’s peers and competitors have adopted far-reaching energy goals for renewable energy, each has established principles to guide how they achieve these goals as they grow. Amazon has recently begun to speak of being 100% Carbon Neutral for three of its eleven regions, including its newest data center complex in Frankfurt, Germany. Is Amazon buying local renewable energy to power its Frankfurt facility, as Google just announced in the Netherlands, or is it buying renewable energy credits or carbon offsets that improve Amazons energy record only on paper, while leaving its actual electricity supply unchanged? The company should elaborate how it defines renewable for its customers.

If you have been a part of the global campaign to push Amazon to be a green Internet champion, share todays news on your social networks, and tag @Amazon on Twitter and Facebook to let them know that youre excited to hear more about how it will meet its ambitious new goal!

David Pomerantz

By David Pomerantz

David Pomerantz is a former Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace USA, based in San Francisco. He helps lead Greenpeace's campaign for an economy powered by 100% renewable energy.

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