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AWS Steps Up Its Renewable Energy Efforts

It may be the undisputed leader in public cloud, but Amazon Web Services (AWS) has long been considered a laggard in the green computing space, trailing tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook, Rackspace and Microsoft in areas like energy efficiency and transparency.

The company took steps to shed that reputation this week, announcing its plan to launch a 189-megawatt wind farm in Ohio by December 2017 to power its datacenter regions in the U.S. East. Located in Hardin County, this will be AWS' second wind farm in Ohio. The other facility, a 100-megawatt wind farm situated in Paulding County, is set to open in May 2017.

The new Ohio wind farm will generate 530,000 megawatt hours of energy per year, AWS said in its announcement.

Besides the two Ohio wind farms, AWS currently has three other renewable energy projects across the United States that are either completed or close to completion: a 50-megawatt wind farm in Indiana, a 208-megawatt wind farm North Carolina and an 80-megawatt solar farm in Virginia. Further down the pipeline is a massive 253-megawatt wind farm located in Texas that's expected to open in late 2017.

Ohio has been a locus of activity for AWS recently. Last month, the company announced the opening of a new datacenter region in Columbus. AWS also said that it is advocating for Ohio lawmakers to create policies that encourage companies to invest in renewable energy initiatives for the state.

AWS has received criticism in the past for its renewable energy practices, with environmental watchdog group Greenpeace consistently giving AWS low marks in its annual "Click Green Report." In response to those criticisms, AWS in late 2014 announced its goal to enable its global infrastructure to run on 100 percent renewable energy. Since early 2015, AWS has also been contracting with a string of energy companies to build out its renewable energy facilities, according to AWS' sustainability page.

Despite those efforts, for its 2015 report, Greenpeace gave AWS Ds in the areas of "Energy Efficiency & Mitigation Strategy" and "Renewable Energy Use & Advocacy," and an F in "Energy Transparency."

"[T]he continued lack of transparency on the energy performance of the AWS cloud, combined with significant expansion of its infrastructure in utility territories that have little to no renewable energy capacity, would appear to indicate that AWS has not yet determined how it is going to make its commitment to renewable energy become real," Greenpeace wrote in its report.

Nevertheless, AWS said this week that by the end of 2016, more than 40 percent of its total energy usage will come from renewable sources. It aims to increase that portion to 50 percent by the end of 2017.

"We remain committed to achieving our long-term goal of powering the AWS Cloud with 100 percent renewable energy," said Peter DeSantis, vice president of infrastructure at AWS, in a prepared statement. "There are lots of things that go into making this a reality, including governments implementing policies that stimulate cost-effective renewable energy production, businesses that buy that energy, economical renewable projects from our development partners and utilities, as well as technological and operational innovation that drives greater efficiencies in our global infrastructure. We continue to push on all of these fronts to stay well ahead of our renewable energy goals."

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for RCPmag.com and senior editor of AWSInsider.net.

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