Data Center Energy Consumption

by Briton Lee

Data centers in the United States are using an increasing amount of energy, needing 34 full power plants (capable of producing 500 megawatts of energy each) to power them all (Thibodeau 2014). In 2013, data centers used a total of 91 billion kilowatt-hours, and they are projected to hit 139 billion kilowatt-hours by 2020, a 53% increase (ibid). These data centers alone are contributing to an emission of 97 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, and account for over 2% of the energy used nationwide (Hamilton 2013, Fehrenbacher 2014). The use of data centers in cloud computing is one of the few industrial uses of electricity that continues to grow as its applications advance. In 2014, Greenpeace’s audit of the environmental impact of data centers condemned Amazon, labelling it as the dirtiest and least transparent internet infrastructure company around (Fehrenbacher 2014). How Amazon chooses what types of energy to source its data centers is especially scrutinized because Amazon Web Services is the “hands down leader in public cloud computing” and many different companies rely on its services (Fehrenbacher 2014). While Amazon does have two data centers powered by 100% carbon-free energy, it seems less concerned with transitioning to “cleaner” energies than it is with energy efficiency. It seems to subscribe to the prediction that if companies adopted the most efficient practices currently available, there would be higher economic and environmental benefits, with a 40% reduction in energy use and $3.8 billion in savings. Despite Amazon’s reputation of being the “dirtiest”, Amazon is working with Pattern Energy Group to construct a 150 megawatt wind farm in Benton County, Indiana (Tsao 2015). It is clear that Amazon is still dedicated to investing in renewable energy to power infrastructure in the United States, and is looking for alternative and efficient ways to power their massive data centers.

Thibodeau, Patrick. 2014. “Data centers are the new polluters”. Computer World. (

Tsao, Rhea. 2015. “Amazon to Support Construction of a 150MW Wind Farm for Datacenters’ Power Consumption”. Energy Trend. (

Fehrenbacher, Katie. 2014. “Amazon has one of the dirtiest powered clouds around, says Greenpeace”. GigaOm. (

Hamilton, James. 2013. “Datacenter Renewable Power Done Right”. Perspectives. (http://perspectives

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