Dean Nelson, who oversees data centers for eBay, told me recently that he has two big business problems to solve:
I need control of power cost. How do I get a power hedge? As a growing business, we are consuming more power. Along with that, in parallel, I own 62% of the carbon footprint of the company. We love being in Utah, but Utah was our biggest problem because the electricity comes mostly from coal.
Nelson and his boss, eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe, have just taken one big step towards solving both problems. The company announced today [June 21] that it will expand a data center in South Jordan, Utah, by acquiring fuel cells from Bloom Energy, a private company that already supplies fuel cells to eBay headquarters in San Jose [above]. The data-center installation will deliver six megawatts of energy. That’s a lot. eBay says the project will be “the largest non-utility fuel cell installation” in the US. For its part, Apple is building a 4.8 MW Bloom Energy fuel cell project at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina.
The fuel-cell installation costs more than grid electricity in Utah, eBay says, but the company expects the price of electricity in the state to go up, Nelson told me. “The rates will go up, no matter what,” he says, in part because existing cheap coal plants will have to be phased out to meet new EPA rules.
This is a major announcement for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the latest in a series of commitments to clean energy from data center owners–who, until fairly recently, would locate their data centers purely based on cost. That’s one reason why eBay has data facilities in Utah. It’s a state where the grid is powered by cheap coal. “They’ve got low power costs today,” Nelson told me, “and that’s a driver for companies to come.” Similarly, Apple, Google and Facebook all have built data centers in rural North Carolina because the area offers low cost land, generous tax breaks and cheap, coal-fired power. [click to continue…]