Switch has emerged as a leader in the data center industry’s effort to power its operations with renewable energy, according to Greenpeace, which gave the Las Vegas-based company top marks in its Clicking Clean report for 2017. Switch, which is best known for its massive SUPERNAP campus in Las Vegas, is the first multi-tenant data center provider to receive a perfect score in the six-year history of Greenpeace’s report on IT sustainability.
Switch was cited for its use of 100 percent renewable energy for all of its data centers, its advocacy for policies that support renewable energy, its transparency in reporting green house gas emissions, and its energy-efficient data center design.
“Switch is the definitive leader among colocation operators for its efforts to transition its data center fleet to renewables as fast as possible through a combination of renewable energy procurement and aggressive advocacy,” Greenpeace said in its report.
The top marks for Switch are a sign that adoption of renewable energy is beginning to gain traction among colocation providers and wholesale data centers, who lease server space in cabinets, cages and data center suites. These multi-tenant providers have been slower to adopt green energy than large hyperscale players like Google and Facebook, but represent a major opportunity to improve the industry’s impact on sustainability and carbon output.
The Clicking Clean report is part of a broader effort by Greenpeace to track the energy demand of the internet and the energy choices made by individual companies. The environmental group has been a tough critic of the data center’s practices. A key measurement of success is a company’s advocacy efforts to bring more renewable energy to the grid by working with electric utilities and by passing public policies.
A Commitment to Sustainability
The original SUPERNAP has been a pioneer in hyperscale computing, spanning more than 400,000 square feet and featuring the design vision of Switch founder Rob Roy. Innovations in airflow containment and multi-mode cooling helped establish the SUPERNAP as a leading destination for high-density computing. The Switch SUPERNAP Las Vegas project was recently name the number one cloud campus in our rating of the world’s Top 10 cloud campuses.
At the start of 2016 Switch announced that its Las Vegas SUPERNAP campus was fully powered by renewable energy from NV Energy. The company has contracted for more than 180 megawatts of power from solar farms in Nevada to supports its data centers in the state, which will soon include a massive new complex near Reno. Switch is also working with Consumers Energy in Michigan to develop renewable energy project to support the entire load of a new SUPERNAP campus in Michigan.
“The reason Switch was able to achieve this historic recognition is because of the guiding vision of Founder and CEO Rob Roy to move Switch to 100% renewable energy and complete sustainability,” said Adam Kramer, Switch Executive Vice President for Strategy. “Rob is a technology futurist who sees not where the industry is, but where it needs to go.”[clickToTweet tweet=”Rob Roy is a technology futurist who sees not where the industry is, but where it needs to go.” quote=”Rob Roy is a technology futurist who sees not where the industry is, but where it needs to go.”]
Greenpeace also cited Switch for its publicly advocacy for practices that make it easier for IT companies to purchase renewable energy for their operations. When Switch first pursued going 100 percent green in Nevada in late 2013, there was no green energy tariff to facilitate that move. Switch became the first company in Nevada to have a direct access case heard in front of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN).
“Switch has emerged as one of the most aggressive data center operators in pushing for the policy changes needed to transition to a renewably powered economy, both from an economic and ecological perspective,” Greenpeace notes. “Switch engaged in a multi-year legal battle in Nevada to secure the right to opt-out of NV Energy’s service, to allow them to secure a renewable supply of electricity that would allow them to achieve their renewable energy goals and lower their operating costs, a battle it ultimately won.”
Ballot Initiative Brings Energy Choice
Switch has also joined with Tesla and other major electricity customers to support a successful ballot initiative in 2016 that would eliminate NV Energy’s monopoly and allow customers to choose their electricity provider.
“Switch embraces its duty to advocate for clean energy now and as we continue to grow,” said Kramer. “Whether spearheading a revolution in energy policy in Nevada through the recent voter-approved Energy Choice Initiative, working to develop new renewable resources and tariffs in Michigan, or advocating for strong sustainability policies with global keynote addresses, from Washington D.C. to Singapore, green energy advocacy is in our DNA.”
Greenpeace has made disclosures of energy sourcing a key metric in its Clicking Clean reports, and gave the SUPERNAP team high marks on this front as well.
“Switch provides detailed information on a facility level, including GHG (greenhouse gases), for its existing data centers in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada,” the report noted. “Switch makes an energy dashboard available to its customers that provide data on the energy footprint of its servers in the Switch facility for their own monitoring and reporting.”
Multi-Tenant Market Progress
Hyperscale data center operators like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon have been the leading players in sourcing green electricity to power their massive data centers, prompted both by internal commitments and external prodding.
But the multi-tenant data center market has been a tougher sell. Customers are focused on reliability and cost, and have historically been resistant to making any tradeoffs to source renewable energy. Because colocation facilities server many customers in the same data hall, they can see wide variability in power loads and server utilization. In a 2014 report, the Natural Resources Defense Council cited the multi-tenant market as an area offering the potential for enormous sustainability gains.
Digital Realty, Equinix and Rackspace are among the multi-tenant data center providers that have made public commitments to adopt renewable energy to address 100 percent of their data center energy use. Equinix and Digital Realty have each purchased contracts to procure hundreds of megawatts of renewable power.
Greenpeace estimates that 29 percent percent of the power supporting Rackspace’s operations is from “clean energy,” compared to 21 percent for Digital Realty and 20 percent for Equinix.