Amazon to power cloud with wind farm in Indiana

Following Amazon’s quiet commitment to use 100 percent clean energy for its AWS cloud, on Tuesday Amazon announced that it will support the construction and operation of a wind farm in Benton County, Indiana, which will provide power for its data centers. While Google, Facebook, and Apple have been investing in clean power for data centers for awhile, Amazon has moved more slowly and been more quiet when it comes to how it planned to incorporate clean power into its energy infrastructure mix.

These are the first actual energy infrastructure details I’ve heard so far. Amazon says Pattern Energy Group will develop a 150 MW wind farm, which will provide enough power for about 46,000 average American homes. The wind farm — dubbed the Amazon Web Services Wind Farm — will be operational as early as January 2016.

Wind turbines in Hawaii

Wind turbines in Hawaii

To put this in context, 150 MW is a small contribution to Amazon’s overall energy needs for its AWS cloud. But that amount of power could support a data center or two (or even three), depending on the size of the data centers. Apple’s 50 MW of onsite clean energy in North Carolina fully supports its large data center in the region.

Large wind turbine projects are one of the lowest cost sources of clean energy in the U.S., and can also be competitive with cheap fossil fuel plants, like new natural gas plants. The other increasingly common large scale clean power option is utility-scale solar panel farms.

Wind farms can cost as low 3 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour, in windy regions like the interior of the U.S., according to the American Wind Energy Association. Amazon didn’t disclose the financial details of its power agreement.

The Topaz solar farm.

The Topaz solar farm outside of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Generally companies that want to buy large amounts of clean power from a new power plant, will make a “power purchase agreement” deal with the developer to buy the power from the project at a low cost over the course of 25 or so years. The developer can then use the contract with the power purchaser to get the project built.

Google has been announcing these types of clean power purchase agreement deals for years. Earlier this month Google announced that it was making a $76 million investment in a 300 MW wind project in Beaver County, Oklahoma, that is expected to be finished in late summer 2015. A week before that Google announced an $80 million investment in a solar project in Utah. Google has spent over a billion dollars on clean energy projects over the years.

This news from Amazon indicates that the cloud leader will indeed attempt to meet its commitment for 100 percent clean power for its cloud infrastructure. In recent years Greenpeace has targeted Amazon as being a slow mover when it comes to clean power for data centers.

Apple's solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

Apple’s solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

If you’re interested in clean power and data centers check out these stories:




Wind power embraces the circuit board design, via a startup

A Colorado startup has come up a light-weight motor for wind turbine generators that borrows the design of a printed circuit board. Boulder Wind Power is lining up its first customer that plans to give its technology a try.

RidgeBlaster: Rooftop Wind Turbine Idea

There’s a lot of reasons why most homes in America do not have their own wind turbines: high costs, permitting, and aesthetics. But there’s a wave of entrepreneurs trying to change that, including James Post, who developed the SmartWind RidgeBlaster and submitted it to GE’s challenge.

Today in Cleantech

New microwind innovations could make wind-sourced energy a more common sight across the United States. For instance, a gearless, low-speed design from a Michigan startup called WindTronics is helping to open the door for wind turbines in the toughest of markets: urban areas with their tangle of zoning regulations. Hawaii-based startup Humdinger Wind Energy is taking a different direction by harnessing wind energy using a stretched membrane. Combined with federal incentives and an outgrowth of wind-friendly local and state laws, microwind’s future is looking brighter, rather windier, indeed.

GE Building Largest Wind Farm In U.S.

There’s small wind — backyard-style DIY wind projects like this report detailed this week — and there’s big wind, the multi-megawatt utility-scale kind. And then there’s very big wind. On Thursday morning GE (s GE) said it has signed a $1.4 billion deal to deliver more than 300 wind turbines for a 845 MW wind farm that will be built across 30 square miles in north-central Oregon, creating what it says will be the largest wind farm in the U.S. when built.

Independent power producer Caithness Energy will develop the wind farm, called Shepherds Flat, and under three power purchase agreements will provide clean power for utility Southern California Edison (meeting one-tenth of SCE’s state renewable portfolio standard). Caithness Energy says the entire project will cost $2 billion, will create 435 local jobs and is ready to be built now.
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Today in Cleantech

Solar is sexy but there’s something to be said about coaxing electricity out of a stiff breeze.  Projects range from massive wind farms designed to power next generation data centers to a DIY setup that provides electricity to the family of a young Malawian.  There’s a fresh batch concerns, too.  One doctor, in what is sure to stir up some NIMBY-ism, is warning about Wind Turbine Syndrome.  And in Wyoming, the greater sage grouse may be to wind farm builders what the spotted owl was to loggers. Green technology hopefuls, however, should look to wind for hints about their futures.  Giants like GE may provide solar, battery and biofuel startups a roadmap for the industry consolidation that will inevitably follow a cleantech shakeout.

Cascade Launches Oh-So-Quiet Rooftop Wind Turbine

Plastic parts maker Cascade Engineering is bringing a small rooftop wind turbine called the SWIFT to North America. The company says the SWIFT is significantly quieter than traditional small wind turbines — less than 35 decibels, compared with 40 to 50 decibels for competing products. The tiny turbine is already available in the UK, Belgium, New Zealand and the Netherlands through its Scottish designer, Renewable Devices. Cascade has licensed the technology to bring it to the U.S.
Several cities, including San Francisco and New York, have called for more small wind systems to be installed on city buildings, so perhaps the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Cascade could be a hit with urban planners concerned about noise pollution from wind turbines. Renewable Devices says the SWIFT is “the quietest wind system currently available,” due to a ring that connects the outer edges of the blades, which causes air to move silently off the rotor.

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