As demand for its cloud computing services increases in Ireland, Microsoft has struck a deal with General Electric (GE) to buy all of the energy from its new 37-megawatt wind farm in the country for the next 15 years, becoming one of the first multinational technology companies to support a wind project in Ireland.
The deal is part of a power purchase agreement (PPA), which allows companies like Microsoft to offset the huge amount of energy their data centers consume, often from less environmentally friendly sources, by pushing clean energy to the grid. The wind farm will power Microsoft's massive data center outside of Dublin, which currently powers the North Europe Azure region. The company was also given approval to build four data centers at the site last year, which will significantly increase the need for energy – and environmentally friendly energy, at that.
In addition to providing clean energy, the project will also produce valuable data on energy storage, which Microsoft and GE will study to help improve the future of renewables. Each turbine will have an integrated battery that will be tested to see how they can be used to capture and store excess energy, and then push it back to the grid as needed. This could potentially provide more predictable power by alleviating the up and down nature of relying on an unpredictable source for energy, i.e. the whims of wind. And thus, it could better enable intermittent clean power sources, like wind energy, to be added to the Irish grid.
This is the first time a project like this is being implemented in Europe, and it couldn't come at a better time. In a report released this year, Irish energy provider EirGrid said that the growing demand for energy in Ireland is largely due to new data centers that are already putting a heavy load on Dublin's infrastructure. In addition to Microsoft, Google already has a large data center in the area, and Amazon and Apple are planning huge data centers on the outskirts of Dublin.
While this is good for Ireland's citizens, who want to use cloud computing as much as the rest of us, it has put a strain on the grid. EirGrid expects data centers to account for 15 percent of total energy demand by 2026, up from less than two percent in 2015, and until it upgrades transmission equipment in Dublin (which won't happen until 2019), it may need generators to deal with demand in the short term.
But the wind power could offset that, and the research behind the partnership could offer longterm solutions to energy issues in Ireland and beyond.
"Microsoft is proud to be deepening our long history of investment and partnership in Ireland with this agreement," Christian Belady, general manager of Datacenter Strategy at Microsoft, said in a press release. "Our commitment will help bring new, clean energy to the Irish grid, and contains innovative elements that have the potential to grow the capacity, reliability and capability of the grid. This will make it easier to incorporate new clean power sources like wind energy, and that is good for the environment, for Ireland and for our company."