How Can Data Centers Help Build a New Energy Economy? Just Ask San Antonio

| Josh Henretig

5123.clip_image002_thumb_75EB340AAs Microsoft embraces a more thoughtful approach to powering the cloud, we’re looking at how we can reinvent the datacenter to be more efficient and use more sustainable energy sources. Very few cities have embraced the clean energy economy like San Antonio and its mayor, Julian Castro. In addition, The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has demonstrated its commitment to a more sustainable energy future by establishing The Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (SERI) under the leadership of Dr. Les Shephard, formerly of Sandia National Lab. With one of our largest data centers located in San Antonio, we saw an opportunity to work with the city’s renewable energy community on the role of data centers in accelerating the growth of clean energy.

We are forming a three-year agreement with UTSA to research and develop distributed generation technologies that will transform how datacenters consume energy. As part of this research, UTSA students will work hand-in-hand with Microsoft researchers to look into new “fast-start generation” energy technologies such as micro-turbines to replace the diesel generators that are used during times of peak demand and grid outages. In addition, we are making a $1 million donation to UTSA’s SERI.

We have a good reason for partnering with UTSA and the city of San Antonio. Since Microsoft opened a data center in San Antonio in 2009, it was one of the first in the industry to employ technologies like using wastewater for cooling to reduce energy consumption, and we have also taken significant steps to expand the supply of renewable energy in the region, including signing a 20-year power purchase agreement for wind energy in Texas. As San Antonio continues to scale up its commitment to sustainable energy, we see an opportunity to use data centers as a laboratory to demonstrate how to support bringing more distributed energy generation on to the electric grid.

This partnership is an essential element of our company-wide energy strategy. As we shared earlier this week, our objective is to transform the energy supply chain toward radically greater efficiency. We believe that the growth of distributed generation is inevitable—the era when the only game in town was centralized power generation is now over. But our view of distributed generation is not as a replacement of the centralized electric grid. Instead, we see distributed generation as a complement to the traditional centralized model, if it is deployed in a manner that is optimized to the needs of the grid in concert with grid operators and utilities. This partnership is focused on hastening the transition to a future where widespread deployment of distributed generation will reduce energy losses, improve reliability and minimize the need for costly investments in new infrastructure. For this future to be realized, we must develop new technology and new business models that ensure a thoughtful and deliberate transition to a more distributed future. 3480.clip_image005_thumb_385DD641

San Antonio is a perfect market for undertaking this research. Under the leadership of Mayor Julian Castro, the city of San Antonio has actively pursued a New Energy Economy plan. UTSA’s commitment to innovation in this space is evidenced by the establishment of the SERI. San Antonio’s municipally owned utility CPS Energy is the largest publicly owned purchaser of wind power in the country, with 1059 megawatts (MW) of wind-generated electricity in commercial operation. It also has 89 MW of solar power in commercial operation, with plans to develop more than 350 MW of solar power. We believe that this research partnership will help make distributed generation more economically viable while helping the city achieve its goal to be the leading U.S. city in clean energy technology.

This is one of our first major research partnerships to use datacenters as a laboratory for next-generation energy technologies, but it will certainly not be our last. Distributed generation will be an important part of how we power our datacenters as we continue to pursue Microsoft’s energy strategy of transforming the energy supply chain. We look forward to sharing more progress in the future, and be sure to check back on the Microsoft Green blog for more on what else Microsoft is doing around environmental sustainability. You can also check out the press release from UTSA announcing the partnership here.

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