Wait, You Don’t Have Your Own Turbines?

Written by Joe Kozlowicz on Wednesday, October 23rd 2013 — Categories: Data Center Design, Green Data Center

Unfortunately, Green House Data does not have a wind turbine built into our data center roof. We wish we did, but because it is impossible to separate renewable power from conventional methods of generation on the power grid, we have to buy Renewable Energy Credits instead. This is combined with purchases from Cheyenne wind farms to help us reach our 100% renewable-powered goal. In fact, most companies who use renewable energy purchase renewable credits, including huge operators like Google.

So what are Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)? Everyone plugs into the same power grid—there is no separate plug marked “Wind Power” in our data center! That means it's impossible to tell whether the energy used is generated by a solar panel or by a coal plant, once it makes it to the outlet. A Renewable Energy Credit, sometimes called a green tag, is a certificate proving that 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated by a renewable energy resource.

RECs can be sold, traded, or bartered according to the US Department of Energy, and are sold separately from the energy itself. That means we have to buy it directly from companies specializing in renewable projects. They can be controversial because the buyer of an REC is basically investing in another renewable project, not buying renewable energy themselves.

Keeping RECs Legitimate

RECs help encourage renewable growth when direct purchases aren't available and are relatively new commodities, so the potential for fraud must be considered. How can companies be sure their money is going towards the development of new renewables? Who keeps track of the certificates themselves to ensure they aren't sold twice?

Every REC must be tracked from their origin to the final user, making sure that each megawatt-hour of renewable energy has indeed entered the regular power grid. The EPA suggests two methods of certification: individual audits and regional certificate tracking systems. Audits are certified by third-party organizations and are generally used when the REC is purchased in a far away region. Tracking systems are electronic databases used to monitor RECs, with unique numbered certificates for every MWh of electricity. Once the wattage has been used, the certificate expires. Each certificate number can only belong to a single account.

There are a number of certificate tracking systems in use throughout the United States. In the Rocky Mountains, the Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System (WREGIS) tracks renewable energy generation from units that register in the system by using verifiable data and creating RECs for this generation. WREGIS is an independent organization governed by committee, and was developed after California charged that state’s Energy Commission with developing a tracking system in 2003.

In Green House Data's case, we know that some of our data center power comes from the Happy Jack and Silver Sage Wind Farms, and one of the reasons we choose to locate in Wyoming is because of the abundance of renewable energy fed into the regular power grid. At our New Jersey location, we also have some direct solar power generated by solar panels on the roof of the data center building, but we must also supplement this power with RECs. Every year we receive a certificate verifying our RECs as a total MWh amount, which then expires when we have used that amount of electricity.

EPA Green Power Partner

Green House Data has also been an EPA Green Power partner with 100% Green Power usage for several years. In order to meet the requirements, an organization must track their electricity usage and purchase a corresponding amount of RECs, so their power is essentially supplied by renewable sources. The EPA also requires power to be sourced from the United States, as well as from renewable facilities built within the past 15 years, in order to continuously drive the creation of more renewables.

RECs come from a certain “vintage”, meaning they are certified for renewable project spending within a calendar year. If we purchase an REC for 2013, that money is spent during 2013 to build more renewable energy sources. The EPA Green Power partner program requires participants to purchase RECs of the current vintage, or up to 3 months ahead of time. Organizations can purchase vintages ahead of time, but they will not count towards a 100% Green Power rating until that year has started.

RECs are only one way Green House Data strives to set an example as a leading provider of responsible cloud computing services. For more information, check out our energy efficient practices.

Posted By: Joe Kozlowicz