Facebook Opens Wind-Powered Data Center in Iowa

Facebook’s fourth data center is officially online in Iowa and running completely on wind energy. 

It’s one of the most advanced, efficient, and sustainable data centers on the planet, the company says. Like its other data centers, Altoona is cooled by outside air, eliminating the most fuel-consumptive part of operations. Wind energy is generated nearby at MidAmerican’s new 140 megawatt project – Facebook contracted for 138 MW of it!

About 15,000 people live in Altoona. Facebook will have a pretty huge presence – its 476,000-square-foot building is three times bigger than the local Walmart. And next year, another data center on the same site will open that’s about the same size.

They won’t create a lot of jobs, however, because 75 people can manage the $300 million facility. 

Facebook Altoona

Facebook isn’t far from data centers owned by Microsoft and Google, also lured to Iowa for 100% renewable energy, low electricity prices … and tax breaks.

By the end of 2015, MidAmerican will have about 3.5 gigawatts of wind capacity installed in Iowa, powering over a million homes, and supplying Google, Microsoft and Facebook with all their energy. 

That bring Facebook’s use of renewable energy to 25% of its total and Iowa’s to almost 30%

You may be surprised to learn there are about 3 million data centers in the US, according to the Department of Energy. Most are in small rooms or even closets, used by small and medium-sized businesses. Really big ones like Facebook’s comprise less than 10% of the market. 

"Most of the attention is focused on the highly visible hyperscale ‘cloud’ data centers like Google’s and Facebook’s, but they already are very efficient and represent less than 5% of US data center electricity consumption. Our small, medium, corporate, and multi-tenant data centers are still squandering huge amounts of energy," says Pierre Delforge, Director of high-tech energy efficiency for Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Improving energy efficiency could cut consumption by at least 40% with savings of over $3 billion a year, they say.

By 2020, they expect energy consumption to 140 billion kilowatt hours in the US, roughly that produced by 50 large coal-fired power plants.

NRDC calculates:

  • Up to 30% of servers are "comatose" and no longer needed because projects have ended or business processes changed, but are still plugged in and consuming electricity.
  • Much of the energy consumed by US data centers powers servers operating at 12-18% of capacity. Even sitting virtually idle, servers use significant amounts of power 24/7. 
  • In 80% of organizations, the department responsible for data center management is separate from the one paying the electric bills. This "split incentive" reduces the likelihood of implementation of commonsense efficiency measures.

They recommend aligning incentives for decision makers, developing simple metrics to measure server use, public disclosure of data center energy and carbon performance, and establishing "green leases" for multi-tenant data centers. 

Read our article, Facebook Chooses Iowa for New Data Center: Lots of Wind Energy There.

Read NRDC’s report, Scaling Up Energy Efficiency Across the Data Center Industry: Evaluating Key Drivers and Barriers:

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