According to a piece in Fortune this morning, Equinix is making a big bet on solar energy out in California. The data center giant has done a deal with SunEdison for 105 megawatts of solar power from a solar panel farm to be built near San Diego.
That's not a token amount of power, but represents enough to power the company's entire California footprint. That being said, the solar power itself *won't* be used to actually power those data centers. In what they call a 'virtual power purchase agreement', they'll still be getting their power from where they do now while the purchased power flows into the southern California grid. Many, like Google and Apple, have turned to this method of going green.
It's an interesting dichotomy though. We are told that inexpensive, plentiful power is a key criteria for building new, large data centers. Yet more and more data center operators looking to get greener are choosing to buy (presumably) more expensive alternative power from geographies they have historically avoided precisely because it was more expensive. And yet, they're still using the non-green power.
I'm not picking on Equinix here, this is an increasingly common thing. But sometimes I wonder just how useful it is as a society to do this. If an internet giant buys green power for region A and then receives power at location B in exchange, then to balance the books one could argue that residents of region A are buying non-green power for the internet giant at location B. The difference is that the internet giant gets to say it is using clean power in a PR while not actually doing so, while the residents of region A use clean power while actually paying for the opposite. It's like a giant public relations sleight of hand.
But in the end, I suppose a new solar power farm gets built that wouldn't otherwise have gotten built. At least, that's the theory.