This week Amazon unveiled plans for a wind farm in Ireland and a solar project in the U.S., the latest steps by the technology giant in its goal of using 100% renewable power for its data centers. The move on August 1 is the latest indication that even the world’s largest companies are feeling pressure from investors to become sustainable.
The projects in Cork, Ireland, and Pittsylvania County, Virginia, will add 68.2 megawatts of power generating capacity when finished. Both will supply power to Amazon Web Services’ data centers. With the completion of the two facilities, Amazon’s number of renewable energy projects will rise to 66, the company said in a release.
“Major investments in renewable energy are a critical step to address our carbon footprint globally,” Kara Hurst, Amazon’s head of sustainability said in a statement. “We will continue to invest in these projects, and look forward to additional investments this year and beyond.”
Amazon didn’t disclose how much the two new projects would cost.
And there are also broader concerns about sustainability and carbon footprint of a company whose reach and industry verticals are constantly expanding.
“The amount of plastic waste caused by e-commerce is astounding — so much so that a whole new generation of packaging technologies are storming the market to counter this growing problem,” Michele Demers, founder and CEO of Boundless Impact Investing, told Karma. “E-commerce adds plastics to our landfills, our oceans, and our lives at a time we urgently need to reverse this trend.”
In February, Amazon announced a long-term goal to make all shipments carbon neutral, with 50% being net zero carbon by 2030. Improvements in electric vehicles, aviation biofuels, reusable packaging, and renewable energy make the goal realistic, Amazon has said.
Amazon as a whole reached 50% renewable-energy usage in 2018. The company came under fire earlier this year after Greenpeace said that Amazon Web Services was only meeting 12% of its renewable energy commitment at its East Coast hub in Virginia. And thousands of Amazon’s own employees appealed to the company in April to do more on climate change. The company’s shareholders said no.
Rising demand for cloud-computing services has been a challenge for technology giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet as they attempt to curb their carbon output with the use of renewables. All three rely on their data centers, which are responsible for about 2% of total global power demand and the percentage is growing.
Apple has the most solar capacity installed in the U.S. in 2018, followed by Amazon, Target, Walmart and Switch, the Solar Energy Industries Association said in a report last week.
Amazon lead the pack in installing new solar since 2016, adding 329.8 megawatts of capacity, according to the SEIA’s Solar Means Business Report.
Amazon competitor Microsoft announced on July 31 that its upcoming data centers in El Mirage and Goodyear, Arizona, will be powered by 100% renewable energy. Microsoft said that 60% of its data center energy will come from renewable sources by the end of the year. The company plans for renewables to reach the 70% mark by 2023. Last year, half of its energy usage has come from renewable sources.
Amazon announced in April that it would buy power from three future wind projects. The projects in Ireland, Sweden and the U.S. will have a combined 229 megawatts of capacity and supply Amazon Web Services data centers.
While Amazon’s announcement is the latest in a series of renewable energy steps taken by the company and more should be expected as it strives to reach its renewable energy goals, questions remain about its ambitious renewable energy commitments and the company’s carbon footprint as its continues to expand.