Amazon quietly commits to 100% clean energy for AWS, but gives no details

While some of the biggest internet companies in the world — like Google, Apple and Facebook — have been investing in clean energy to run their data centers, Amazon has mostly shied away from publicly committing to using energy like solar and wind for Amazon Web Services. But perhaps that is starting to change.

Amazon recently updated a statement on its website, which Greenpeace has been touting, and which says:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint.[/blockquote]

It might not seem like a big deal, but that [company]Amazon[/company] is even talking about clean energy at all is worth noting. AWS has been one of the least transparent internet infrastructure companies around when it comes to sustainability and clean energy, and [company]Greenpeace[/company] gave Amazon a scathing review in a report in April earlier this year.

Image courtesy of Apple.

Image courtesy of Apple.

Back then Greenpeace noted that Amazon was “far behind its major competitors,” when it came to using clean energy. Apple, [company]Box[/company], [company]Facebook[/company], Google, [company]Rackspace[/company], and [company][/company] had all committed to 100 percent clean energy. Amazon says it disagrees with the findings of this report that Greenpeace used “false assumptions on AWS operations and inaccurate data on AWS energy consumption.”

Amazon now says it will join these six companies in this commitment, but it doesn’t disclose any details of how it will implement this strategy, or a timeline for what constitutes a “long-term commitment.” Without more details on the plan, strategy and timeline, we really have no way of knowing how serious Amazon is for implementing this statement.

Wind turbines, image courtesy of Chrishna, Flickr Creative Commons.

Wind turbines, image courtesy of Chrishna, Flickr Creative Commons.

Greenpeace says it wants more details specifically on if Amazon will work with Virginian local utility Dominion Power, which has few clean energy assets, and how Amazon defines “renewable energy usage.” Does its definition of renewable energy include buying renewable energy credits or carbon offsets that would improve Amazon’s energy record on paper, but not its actual electricity supply used?

Building or buying clean energy for powering the cloud can be difficult but is getting easier. In certain locations, solar and wind energy can be more expensive than cheap fossil fuel power, and solar panels and wind turbines take up a lot of space (see Apple’s sprawling solar farms in North Carolina). Areas like Washington that have substantial low cost clean power in the form of hydro, have a shrinking amount of space for data centers.

[company]Google[/company] and [company]Apple[/company] in particular have learned a lot as they’ve led the way. Utilities are starting to realize that some of the big Internet companies are willing to pay a premium for clean power, so are now providing them more options.

That Amazon is moving more slowly than its competitors, means that Amazon can learn from some of the early moves by Google and Apple. Given that Amazon’s cloud powers so many companies, it’s particularly important for Amazon to get its adoption of clean power right.